Rhames climbs into ring for Liston biopic


Ving Rhames will portray the infamous heavyweight fighter Sonny Liston in the biopic "Phantom Punch," which Robert Townsend will direct.

Ryan Combs wrote the script. Hassain Zaidi and Marek Posival are producing the independently-financed film, which began production Monday in Toronto and is scheduled to finish in early December.

"Phantom" will chronicle Liston's rise to fame as a boxer and the single "phantom punch" he took at the hands of Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) that many believe led to the demise of his career.

Liston was the 24th of 25 children born to an Arkansas sharecropper. Prone to violence, he at one point served prison time for robbing a gas station and another for beating up a police officer. He turned to fighting as a way to gain respect and became world heavyweight champion in 1962.

While he was known to have ties to the mob -- and one of the most potent punches in heavyweight division history -- the boxer is best remembered for the incident that took place just two minutes into the 1965 bout with Ali. The fighter -- who had seldom been knocked to his feet -- went down from what was long debated as a felonious punch.

The photograph from the fight's conclusion was forever immortalized on the cover of "Sports Illustrated."

Townsend said Rhames, who brought the script to him after years of wanting to bring the story to the big screen, is the perfect actor to play the role of the notorious fighter.

"The thing is that certain people are born to play certain roles and Ving has always gravitated toward Sonny Liston's story," said Townsend. "This is his baby and he's giving birth to it. He's already playing the character at so many levels."

Rhames recently joined Jeremy Piven in Neal Brennan's "The Goods: The Don Ready Story" for Paramount Vantage and will be seen next in "The Tournament" and "The Gift" (HR 10/8).

Townsend, who is known to wear multiple hats as actor, director, producer and writer, will be seen next in the drama "Of Boys and Men" and the comedy "Tao of the Golden Mask." He is repped by APA and Rigberg Entertainment Group.