FEAT OF CLAY THAT SHOOK UP THE WORLD (The Sunday Times, London, January 10, 1999) By Nick Pitt After another warm, sunny day there was a rainstorm in Miami that evening in February, 1964. It was pouring down outside when the first bell sounded, summoning not merely two men from opposite corners of a ring, but a turn in history, the entrance of the century's most compelling sportsman. Let us freeze the moment. The announcer had said his piece: "The challenger, from Louisville, Kentucky, wearing white trunks with red stripes, weighing 210 1/2 lb, Cassius Clay! And from Denver, Colorado, wearing white trunks with black trim, the heavyweight champion of the world, Charles "Sonny" Liston!" The bell was ringing. Clay, 22 years old and beautifully athletic, was about to bound across the ring, frisky. Liston, the most menacing man on earth, was ready to step forward for deliberate, violent work. Hardly a person inside the half-full Miami Beach Convention Hall, or watching the closed-circuit broadcast across America, had suspected they would witness an event of cataclysmic impact and mysterious circumstances. At ringside, the knowing ones of the boxing press were all but unanimous. It was an easy call. The mismatch odds, seven to one in favour of Liston, were about right. Clay had found some celebrity and was rapidly adding notoriety. Among those who had trooped up the wooden stairs leading to the seedy Fifth Street gym where he trained were The Beatles (Clay: "You're not as dumb as you look." Lennon: "You are.") and Malcolm X, the most gifted and feared leader of the Black Muslim (Nation of Islam) movement to which Clay was becoming attached. But the worth of the Louisville Lip as a fighting man had yet to be recognised, especially by the experts. For them, he was a clown, a dancer, fancy and fast, but an act. In his last two outings, he had struggled against Doug Jones and been knocked temporarily senseless by Henry Cooper. No punch. No defence. Like everybody else, the pressmen were in awe of Liston, viewing him more as monster than man. Many rated him the greatest heavyweight of all, and certainly the most intimidating. He was a brooding, unforgiving bully, a deadly puncher with huge hands and enormous reach, whose three previous fights had ended concussively in the first round. He could box, but he hardly needed to. Most victims were beaten long before he hit them, for few could look into his eyes and those who did saw dark pools of malevolence. And if anybody on assignment had wondered during the idle days of waiting in the Miami sunshine whether Clay might have a chance, he no longer did so on the evening of the fight. All doubts had been swept away that morning at the weigh-in. Here at least was an angle. The weigh-in was the most chaotic ever. Clay, who had been pestering Liston for months, annoying him at gaming tables in Las Vegas, "bear-hunting" at his house in the early hours, surpassed himself. Accompanied by his chief cheerleader, Bundini Brown, Clay beat the floor with an African walking stick as he entered the weigh-in area. Brown chanted the catchphrase he had recently coined: "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee!" When Liston arrived, Clay and Brown yelled like competing hysterics: "I'm ready to rumble now! You're scared chump! You ain't no giant! I'm going to eat you alive!" Clay lunged at Liston as if to mix it, and was held back by Brown and five others. "Hey sucker, you're a chump," Clay screamed. "You're a bear, you're ugly, I'm going to whip you so bad!" Liston responded with a withering stare. "Don't tell everybody," he said, though quite what he meant nobody knew. "Cassius Clay fined $2,500," announced an official of the Miami Beach Boxing Commission after several warnings. The commission doctor examined Clay. His pulse, normally 52, had shot up to 120. His blood pressure was equally high. "Clay is acting like a man scared to death," the doctor told several journalists. "He is liable to crack up before he enters the ring." Such behaviour at a weigh-in was unheard of. "No man could have seen Clay that morning and believed he could stay on his feet three minutes that night," wrote Murray Kempton of The New Republic. In the Daily Mail, Jim Manning went further, declaring that the fight must not be allowed to proceed because Clay was clearly insane. As evening approached, there were reports that he had been seen at the airport, buying a ticket. What of the fighters as they heard that first bell? Nobody trusted more firmly in the Liston myth than Liston. As a former strikebreaker and convict, the current champion and symbol of the gangsters who had controlled boxing in the United States for a decade and more, there was nothing he recognised more clearly, or could conjure more naturally, than fear in others. And Clay, he knew, was frightened. Two rounds was Liston's estimation: a round to catch the dancer and a round to destroy him. But there was a small worm of doubt in Liston's mind. Maybe Clay really believed he could win. If he did, he was mad. And you never know what to expect from a madman. For Clay, at last about to engage Liston with fists, the moment of truth had come. Baiting the bear had been an act, of course, but the hysteria was made convincing by genuine anxiety. Psyching-up himself was as important as psyching-out Liston. Clay was frightened of Liston, all right. But, not for the last time, he was ready to confront his own fear head on. Clang. Round one. Clay bounded forward to meet the shuffling Liston. He cantered around him, circling, now this way, now that. Liston tried a left lead. His jab could lift men from the floor, knock them cold, but not if they were absent, and Clay was long gone. The punch, like most of Liston's that night, missed by a couple of feet. When Clay ended his reconnoitre, he found his target immediately. Still circling, he stung Liston with single blows to the head, leading with either hand. He next produced combinations, equally effective, and, to conclude the round, eight consecutive jabs speared Liston without reply. Joe Louis was commentating for the closed circuit broadcast. "We've just seen one of the greatest rounds we've seen from anybody in a long time," he said. "Clay completely outclassed Sonny Liston." Clay might have been crazed outside the ring. Inside it, he was in perfect control. Liston was outclassed, beaten for speed of foot, hand and brain. Early in the third, he was cut, a gash appearing high on his left cheekbone. The title was being swept away in a flood. But when Clay returned to his corner at the end of the fourth, his eyes were stinging. "I can't see!" he shouted. "Cut them off. Cut off the gloves! We're going home!" During the following 60 seconds, Angelo Dundee, Clay's chief cornerman as well as trainer, earned all the money his association with Clay would bring him over 20 years. "This is the championship," he told Clay. "Sit down." Dundee put a finger to the corner of Clay's eye. He rubbed his own eye and could feel it burn. He took a sponge, plunged it into the water-bucket and bathed Clay's eyes. Clay still shouted: "I can't see!" A group of Black Muslims, heavy guys, was sitting behind the corner. They were murmuring that Dundee, whom they suspected of mafia, and therefore Liston, connections, was blinding his man. Warned by his brother, who heard the murmurs, Dundee quickly proved his innocence, plunging the sponge back in the bucket and bathing his own eyes. If foul play there was, it was from the other corner. Joe Pollino, one of Liston's cornermen, later admitted to a reporter that he had "juiced up" Liston's gloves after the third round and then threw the container, which he took to every Liston fight just in case, under the ring apron. Dundee pushed Clay from the stool. "Stay away from him. Run!" Clay went out, blinking, half-seeing Liston, who knew his chance had come. Instinct and speed saved Clay, who was never more magnificent. Liston hit him, but never repeatedly and never decisively. By the end of the fifth round, Clay's eyes had cleared and he was back in command. In the sixth, Liston took a beating. Clay cut out the floating, set his feet and punched not to wing Liston but to bring him down. He was hitting an old man and he did not miss. Liston walked slowly back to his corner and sat down. "That's it," he told his cornermen. At first, they thought Liston was telling them that he was finally going to involve himself, stop the nonsense. They treated the cut, rubbed him down, replaced his gumshield. Liston spat it out: "I said that's it!" Liston had quit on his stool. When Clay realised, he rushed around the ring with his arms raised, shouting to the world and to the ringside experts: "I am the king! King of the world! Eat your words! Eat your words!" As Clay and his entourage whooped around the ring, disbelief was universal. "What the hell is this?" said Rocky Marciano at ringside. In the Jefferson City jail, where Liston had first learned to box, the inmates, watching on closed-circuit TV, howled in derision, convinced he had thrown the fight. It was said that Liston had injured his left shoulder. Over the years, it was claimed that he had approached the promoter and the boxing commission, wanting a postponement. But apparently he was so certain of beating Clay that he made little fuss when they turned him down. And, so it was said, his shoulder was injured further and rendered numb during the fight, perhaps when one of his hooks struck nothing but air. Why, then, did Liston return to his dressing room, pick up an armchair in his left hand, throw it against the wall and scream a dreadful curse? Had the mob cashed in on the odds? Had the Black Muslims got to Liston? Most of those who might have the answer are dead. Frankie Carbo, the gangster who was Liston's ultimate boss, died in prison. Malcolm X, the most influential of the Black Muslims present in Miami, was assassinated a year later. Liston was found dead in his Las Vegas home in December 1970. So unbelievable was the gap between what was expected and what happened, so foolish were commentators made to look, that fantastic explanations were required. Denying the evidence of Clay's brilliance, the experts in assumption before the fight became the conspiracy theorists after it. Liston understood better. In less than half an hour his view of the world and his place in it had been uprooted. He quit not because of pain, but disillusion. As an event, it was sensational and historic, but as a promotion it was a flop. A black man with links to the mob against a black guy with links to the Black Muslims, and anyway who had no chance, was hardly an attraction in Florida in the early 1960s. Only 8,297 tickets were sold for an arena holding 15,744. The promoter lost more than $300,000. The day after the mayhem, Clay, the new heavyweight champion of the world, confirmed that he was embracing Islam. As Cassius X, briefly, and Muhammad Ali thereafter, his reign as the sporting figure of the age had begun. Half an hour's fighting in Miami Beach on a wet evening had changed his sport, all sport, for ever. THE WIT & WISDOM OF MUHAMMAD ALI (The Sunday Times, London, January 10, 1999) On Sonny Liston... If you want to lose your money, then bet on Sonny I'm young, I'm handsome, I'm fast, I can't possibly be beat. I'm ready to go to war right now. If I see that bear on the street, I'll beat him before the fight. I'll beat him like I'm his daddy I'll hit Liston with so many punches from so many angles he'll think he's surrounded. I don't just want to be champion of the world, I'm gonna be champion of the whole universe. After I whup Sonny Liston, I'm gonna whup those little green men from Jupiter and Mars. And looking at them won't scare me none because they can't be no uglier than Sonny Liston On being The Greatest... I must be the greatest. I showed the world, I talk to God every day. I shook up the world. I'm the king of the world! I'm pretty! I'm a bad man! I shook up the world! You must listen to me. I am the greatest! I can't be beat! I should be a postage stamp. That's the only way I'll ever get licked Howard Cosell, US broadcaster: You're being extremely truculent Ali: Whatever truculent means, if that's good, I'm that On George Foreman... Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see Now you see me, now you don't George thinks he will, but I know he won't You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned? Wait till I whup George Foreman's behind Listen to the people George has fought. [Reading from a list] Don Waldheim. He was a nobody. Fred Askew. He was a nobody. Sylvester Dulliare. I can't even pronounce his name. Chuck Wepner. He was a nobody. John Carroll. He was a nobody. Cookie Wallace. He was a nobody. Vernon Clay. [Pause] Clay? He might be good On black oppression... Everything good is supposed to be white. We look at Jesus, and we see a white with blond hair and blue eyes. We look at all the angels; we see white with blond hair and blue eyes. Now, I'm sure there's a heaven in the sky and coloured folks die and go to heaven. Where are the coloured angels? I'm expected to go overseas to help free people in South Vietnam, and at the same time my people here are being brutalised and mistreated. ONE FIGHT QUARRY COULDN'T WIN (Boston Globe, Sunday, January 10, 1999) By Ron Borges Short of hearing ''world champion'' before your name, there is perhaps nothing that makes a fighter prouder than to hear someone say of you, ''He can really take a punch.'' Unless you take too many of them. That was the sad fate of Jerry Quarry, a fierce heavyweight warrior in the '60s and '70s who died recently at the age of 53 no longer knowing who he was besides a fighter. Quarry had long suffered from what is medically known as pugilistica dementia. In the gyms he used to frequent in Los Angeles, they call the condition being punch drunk and sadly shake their heads when they say it. Jerry Quarry died punch drunk, a brave man who took too many punches too well for too long. He took them from Muhammad Ali on Oct. 26, 1970, the night Ali returned from exile to batter boxing's newest Great White Hope until his eye split open and the fight had to be stopped over Quarry's protests. He took them from Joe Frazier, who twice busted him up, and from Jimmy Ellis the night he lost his only shot at the heavyweight title, and from Floyd Patterson, whom he fought twice and beat once, and from Ken Norton, who knocked him senseless at a time when Quarry had begun to train with a liquor bottle, not a water bottle, by his side. Eventually, as a once-proud career wound down without a heavyweight title coming to him, drugs and alcohol began to hit him, too, and in time he lost everything. He lost the $338,000 he'd made for going three rounds with Ali and the $500,000 he had saved from the $2.1 million he earned during his years as a top contender, and he lost all three of his wives. Worst of all, he lost his mind. By 1983, Quarry had already been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. He had not yet suffered the short-term memory loss that would slowly rob him of all recollection and lead a prominent California physician to declare three years ago that Quarry had the brain of an 80-year-old man because prizefighting had stolen 30 years from him. He had not yet been robbed of his motor skills, either, a process that began not long after that but didn't stop him from trying an ill-advised comeback in 1992 after he'd convinced himself he could be another George Foreman. The comeback lasted one night, which was one night too many. It came in Colorado, a state with no boxing commission, and that was no accident. Quarry took a good punch that night. He took a lot of bad ones, too, from a pug who shouldn't have been able to hold his robe for him. Quarry lost a six-round fight and much of what was left of his brain. He got paid $1,050 and soon began to slip off into a cloudy world in which his family had to spend most of their time caring for him. This went on until he was hospitalized Dec. 28 with pneumonia and suffered cardiac arrest while there. For one last time, Jerry Quarry took the blows and refused to fall. He kept fighting until the end, refusing to go down until his family took him off life support after being told he would be bed-ridden and fed through a tube for the rest of his life. He finally went down then because there are some blows no man can stand up to. But he went down the way he had lived. Jerry Quarry went down fighting.