"I don't know where he got the energy," says Ellis, who now works for the Louisville parks system. "He'd box and box. He'd box three or four rounds with one guy. Then he'd sit down. Then another guy would come into the gym, and he'd go three or four rounds with him. Then he'd come out and hit the heavy bag. And then he'd go three or four rounds with another guy."
And anytime a professional fighter came to town, says Ellis, Clay would train where the pro was. Dundee brought light heavyweight Willie Pastrano to Louisville in 1957, and they were sitting in their hotel room one day when the phone rang. Dundee took the receiver and heard this: "My name's Cassius Marcellus Clay. I'm the Golden Gloves champion of Louisville, Kentucky. I'm gonna win the Golden Gloves, and I'm gonna win the Olympics in 1960, and I want to talk to you."
Dundee invited him up. For the next three hours, recalls Dundee, Clay picked and probed and prodded his brain, asking him how his fighters trained, what they ate, how far they ran, how much they hit the bags. "He was a student of boxing," Dundee says. "He was so inquisitive. A very interesting young man."
Two years later Dundee and Pastrano were back again—Pastrano was only four years away from winning the light heavyweight crown—training for a fight in Louisville against Alonzo Johnson. There was young Clay again, this time hustling Dundee for a chance to spar with Pastrano. Dundee turned him down—he did not believe in matching amateurs against pros—but the kid persisted: "Come on, come on. Let me work with him."
So Dundee finally yielded. Pastrano sparred one round with Clay, and the boy danced around him. "In and out, side-side, in and out," says Dundee. "Stick-stick-stick. Move-move-move. He was so quick, so agile, Willie couldn't do nothing with him."
Dundee called it off, saying, "Willie, baby, you ain't gonna spar no more. You're too fine, baby."
Pastrano wasn't buying. "——!" he said. "The kid kicked the hell out of me."
So much of what came to characterize Ali as a fighter—his tactics in and out of the ring—he began cultivating as an amateur. Ellis recalls Clay working on opponents' minds as deftly as he would soon work on their chins. Says Ellis, "We'd be fighting in the wintertime, in Chicago, and there'd be his opponent sitting there sniffling or blowing his nose. Cassius would say, 'Man, you got a cold? I'm gonna knock you out—cold! You can't beat me if you got a cold. I'm gonna knock you out!' "
Martin says that long before Clay went berserk at the weigh-in before his first bout with Sonny Liston, in 1964, he had become a performer—even an artist—at the scales. He was being weighed on March 9, 1960, only hours before facing Jimmy Jones, the defending heavyweight titleholder in Chicago's Tournament of Champions, when he turned to his trainer. "Mr. Martin," Clay said, "are you in a hurry to get away from here tonight?"
"Not really," said Martin. "Why?"