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55 years ago today Cassius Clay fought Sonny Liston for the first time. He had talked promoters, fans and media into scheduling the bout, though he'd only been 22 a month, & had a close decision w/ light heavy Doug Jones, & been dropped by Henry Cooper.
Clay was an 8-1 'dog. Only three of 46 sportswriters picked the chatty kid who had looked so unimpressive vs. journeypersons Jones & Cooper not long before. Liston, for his part, had dispatched Patterson in 2:06 & 2:10 in the 1st round in their two meetings.
Clay-Liston I was nearly cancelled. Live gate sales stalled with rumors & sightings of Malcolm X in Clay's camp. Promoter Bill McDonald asked Cash to denounce Malcolm & declare he wasn't a member of The Nation Of Islam. Malcolm had just been suspended for his comments re- JFK
Clay refused to make such a statement. Later, he told McDonald what he WOULD do, is not announce he was a member of the organization until after the fight
Clay-Liston I presser:
Sonny told media Clay should be "...arrested for impersonating a fighter". Asked about Clay's boasts he is pretty, Liston quipped "I don't know whether to kiss him or kill him"
Clay composed a poem about how his challenge vs. Sonny would unfold:
The Clay-Liston I weigh-in (Clay was fined for his behavior, and media spread rumors that afterwards, he was seen at the Miami airport. His pulse raced to 120 beats per minute (his normal resting rate = 42):
Most of the sports journalists who saw the weigh assumed Clay was afraid of Liston. Because of the cultural divide in the U.S., they were unaware of the commonplace practice of "woofing" in The Community, or signifyin', taunting rhymes, and such
Jackie Gleason, whose variety show was shot on Miami Beach, had gotten to know Clay a bit. He joked that the challenger would last "...three seconds- and that includes the two he brings in the ring with him". This was the general consensus.
55 years ago today, the fight was finally on. No Muslim postponement or cancellation. No Clay fleeing town in fear. Here is how fight fans viewed it on closed circuit television in theaters across the U.S.
The challenger's brother Rudy fought on the undercard. Clay-Liston was not the final bout on the card that night @ The Miami Convention Center.
Also in Miami w/ Clay = Jimmy Brown, Sugar Ray Robinson & Sam Cooke. Hanging out with an 8-1 'dog who was much younger than they
Two things struck Sonny before the opening bell: How large Clay was (he had put on weight since the Jones and Cooper bouts), and the fact when the ref gave them their instructions, Clay, unlike Patterson, stared Liston right back. See 6:15
@MuhammadAli upset Sonny Liston 55 years ago today. I wrote about what distinguished The Champ here: ussporthistory.com/2017/02/06/muh…
Between 8:00-8:45, the ringside reporters clacketying away on their typewriters, could see Clay was not intimidated by Liston:
9:10-9:22, onlookers inside the Convention Center were like "What the heck is going on?":
The third thing which struck Liston straight away on that historic night, is that Clay could take a shot. It is the hallmark of his career, and the key to his success.
At 15:00-15:15 of this footage, which is only round three, Clay nearly knocked LISTON out. Listen to the crowd:
One issue w/ training for Clay/Ali, if one is a large heavy (210 lbs. plus = Liston, Frazier, Foreman), there is no sparring partner who can provide a comp. If you train vs. a speedy light heavy, they lack his strength. If you train w/ a 200 pounder, they don't have his speed.
@ 20:40 on this reel, during the 4th, some liniment or salve from Liston's gloves or shoulder gets into Clay's eyes. It impaired his vision after the bell, and into round five:
At 21:47 Clay tells his corner he cannot see, & asks them to stop the bout:
From 22:40 Clay is fighting a Sonny Liston he cannot see. Imagine facing the heavyweight champion of the world- and you cannot see him. This is the round that will define, for better or worse, the direction of Ali's career:
At 25:32 young Clay's vision has cleared. Peep the difference in his approach (and in Sonny's):
From 25:40-28:00, observe whether Sonny throws both hands:
@ 28:35 on, watch closely. At 29:15 Cassius notices something in his opponent's corner that the crowd or closed circuit viewers cannot see:
Clay notices even before the ref or the media, that Sonny isn't going to make the seventh round bell, that his corner had decided to end the bout. They weren't merely working on his puffy, cut eye. He had told them he'd thrown his right shoulder out. Pandemonium ensues
Now Clay is as animated as he was at the weigh-in, which demonstrates that was not fear, it was an aspect of his culture which mass media misinterpreted. So was his comportment when Liston did not rise for the seventh round bell. But the U.S. was segregated, as was the press
@ 32:43, closed circuit tv announcer Steve Ellis doesn't even know how to deal. He pushes Joe Louis (even prior to this, he talks to Joe as if he is a child):
35:40 Clay signifies again. Remember, this was before "Sanford & Son", Richard, Flip, Rudy Ray Moore, J.J., or Neon Deion, so one U.S. has never heard siggin' or woofin'. TBH, by then, the Black press already knew Ali was a member of The Nation.
People in The Community had been employing rhyme in romantic flattery & courtship rituals, disparagement of another's ancestors, sellin' woof tickets, cappin', soundin', blastin', jonin', toastin' for centuries. But none were heavyweight champ, so it went invisible to most of U.S
Listen to the British closed circuit tv broadcast from 33:30 on: (watch ringside crowd at 33:46)
No, the fight was not fixed. Liston tried to separate Clay's head from his body after 25:40:
Listen @ 25:30 "He's got something on his glove":
55 years ago Ali dethroned Sonny Liston. The post fight presser w/ the disrespectful sports media:
At 3:05 Angelo explains there was a foreign substance on Liston's gloves:
Before this fight, show business figures deemed Clay a joke, an act, a staged phony. Some, like Jerry Lewis, were even rude to him because of it:
Jack Paar, the Johnny Carson of his era, considers Clay a sweet, charming kid, but also, clearly, a mere "act":
It is clear Paar does not know the fight game, and he is biased by Clay's showmanship, which 95% of the public felt exceeded his ring talent. At 2:45 Clay signifies:
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