Clay pointed to Jones and said, "This guy over here, I can get rid of him in one round if you're in a hurry. Or, if you're in no hurry, if you want me to box, I can carry him for three rounds."
"I'm in no hurry," said Martin.
"I'll let him go three," Clay said.
The kid spun Jones like a top. Clay slipped the champion's heavy artillery in the first round, and then, according to the Louisville Times, he "deftly outboxed him the final two rounds."
Clay was on a path to glory, only six months away from the Rome Olympics, and by then he was rising at four in the morning, before first light, to climb into his sweats and strap on his work boots with the steel toes. At that hour John Powell was usually done sweeping out the liquor dispensary where he worked, and he would listen to the wind blow outside. Recalls Powell: "I'd be sitting on the counter, and I could see his shadow coming around the corner from Grand Avenue. Clay was on his way to Chickasaw Park. Cold, dark winter mornings. You could see that shadow coming. Then here he comes, running by, with those big old Army brogans. He'd be the onliest person in the early morning. And I'd walk outside, and he'd stop and shadowbox. He once said to me, 'Someday you'll own this liquor store, and I'll be the heavyweight champion of the world.' Both of those came true, too."
Clay ran all over Louisville in those steel-toed boots—west to Chickasaw Park in the early morning, east down Chestnut racing the school bus, up and down Walnut Street, downtown and back again, the brogans clomping on the pavement, the lists flying, the litany always the same: "I'm gonna be the next world champion. You're gonna read about me. I'm the greatest!" At 10th and Walnut crowds of men used to gather around a peanut vendor, crack nuts and talk sports.
"Cassius Clay used to come up the street acting like he was hitting people," says Lawrence McKinley. "Shadowboxing and throwing punches in his heavy shoes. Nobody ever dreamed he'd be world champ."
One day one of the street-corner habitués, Gene Pearson, got tired of hearing the litany and vowed to put Clay in his place. "He ain't gonna be no champion," Pearson said. The next time Clay passed the corner, Pearson stepped out from behind a post and hit him with a straight right.
"Pow!" says McKinley. "As hard as he could. Clay liked to go all the way down. He went to his knees, just like he was gonna fall, and he stopped himself and looked up at Gene, and he stretched his eyes real wide and he came up and—whew!—he must have hit Gene 15 or 20 times, so fast you could hardly see the punches, and Gene started saying, 'Get him off me! Get him off me! Yeah, you're gonna be the champ.' And Cassius went right on running up the street. Never said nothin'. The next time Cassius came by, one of the guys said, 'Are you gonna hit him again?' And Gene said, 'Hey, champ!' "
Clay was never a street fighter, and classmates can recall only one occasion when he was goaded into fighting. According to Indra Brown, the episode nearly brought Clay to tears. They were at a delicatessen across from the school when two kids began baiting Cassius, pushing him around and saying, "Come on, let's fight. You can fight." Clay kept backing off. "Leave me alone," he kept saying. "I don't want to do this. Leave me alone."