Production has begun on actor-director Robert Townsend's Phantom Punch, a biopic of controversial US boxer Sonny Liston, a one-time heavy-weight champion whose fame is based more on whom he lost to than his winning bouts.

In 1965, Liston was knocked down by Cassius Clay, the future Muhammed Ali, by the infamous 'phantom punch'. Townsend's other feature credits include The Five Heartbeats (1991) and B.A.P.S. (1997). The screenplay is by Ryan Combs.

Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission: Impossible) plays Liston while Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Shopgirl, The Wedding Planner) and Stacey Dash (I Could Never Be Your Woman) will play the fighter's lover and wife respectively.

Nick Turturro plays Liston's manager Caesar Novak, David Proval (The Sopranos) will play mob boss Savino Gabbriello and former Canadian light heavyweight champ Troy Amos-Ross (Cinderella Man, Resurrecting the Champ) will play boxer Floyd Patterson, the world champion whom Liston had earlier dethroned.

Fully-financed by Toronto-based Access Motion Pictures, the film is produced by Rhames and Access's Hassain Zaidi and Marek Posival. Wayne Thompson is executive producer. John Dyer is director of photography.

Said Zaidi in a statement, 'I have always been intrigued by the story of boxing champ Sonny Liston, who is such a controversial figure in the world of sports. His is a story that deserves to be told and Ving Rhames has the passion to bring this legend back to life.'

Filming continues in and around Toronto until the end of November. The budget was not disclosed.