By a most
curious set of circumstances, as syndicate members enjoy pointing out, Cassius
Clay's mother once cooked for Vertner Smith's wife, and Cassius Clay's aunt,
says Lyons Brown, "cooks for my double first cousin." But even without
these imponderables, Cassius and his parents were inclined to accept the terms;
"the way they talked, the way they carried themselves, the amount of money
they had" was enough.
Because none of
the syndicate men have had any previous first-hand experience with professional
boxing, it is easy to suppose that they have undertaken the development of
Cassius' career for much the same reason that other men buy race horses or
women buy gold charms for their bracelets. Even Cassius, though somewhat in awe
of his sponsors (a few of whom he has never met), speculates cheerfully that
all they want "is to get their change back and a chance to impress their
friends by saying, 'That's my boy; after the fight I'll take you back to the
dressing room to meet the new champ.' " Regardless of motive, it is logical
to suppose that nothing much better could have happened to Cassius Clay.
Cassius," said Bill Faversham the other day, "we saw a good local boy
with a clean background from start to finish. With the proper help and
encouragement, he could bring credit to himself and his home town. There are
plenty of wolves who would leap at the chance to get their paws on Cassius, to
exploit him and then to drop him. We think we can bring him along slowly, get
him good fights and make him the champion he wants to be."
In its measured,
orderly program to bring Cassius up from the bottom, the syndicate began more
or less at the top. For what was described as a "most reasonable fee,"
Cassius began his professional training under the direction of Archie Moore,
the light-heavyweight champion of 3/50 of the U.S. and the rest of the world.
For six weeks last fall, Cassius thrived in the company of the urbane Archie at
his San Diego camp. "Then I got homesick," says Cassius. "I was too
far away out there." Says Archie: "Well that's the way of a boxer;
they're restless types, especially when they're young like that and unmarried,
so I didn't stand in his way. He was coming along real good, though."
LaMar Clark's manager (and Gene Fullmer's, too) and a reputable critic, has
said of Clay, "He has the fastest hands I've ever seen on a heavyweight
anywhere." Archie Moore doesn't lay it on so thick. "He's not as fast
as Patterson," says Moore, who, unlike Jenson, has seen Floyd's hands
banging away at his own face. Angelo Dundee, a Miami trainer next hired to
coach Cassius, says, "Clay's fast enough, don't kid yourself."
fact," says Dundee, a warm little Italian of protruding eyes and ears,
"I can say a lot of nice things about Cassius—but I can also run down a
list of 20 things he does wrong, and I'll hold him back until he shakes them
Dundee was not
impressed, for instance, last winter when Clay came to Miami spouting such
slogans as "People say Cassius Clay fights like Sugar Ray," and
coupling with that vanity bits and pieces of style he had picked up from Archie
Moore. Said Dundee to Cassius one day: "You, my friend, are neither Sugar
Ray Robinson nor Archie Moore, and you've got a long way to go before you will
even resemble them. Who you are is Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., and that's the
man I'm going to teach you to fight like. A guy is never going to get anywhere
thinking he's somebody else."
With this solemn
pronouncement understood (or accepted, or tolerated) by Cassius, Dundee went to
work. "I started to smooth him out and put some snap in his punches,"
says Angelo. "I told him to forget the Olympic headhunting and to dig into
the body. I told him to get down off his dancing toes so he could put some
power behind his fists." Cassius, serene in his confidence, charitably
agrees that " Dundee has done a lot for me," but adds typically,
"What has changed the most is my own natural ability."
after a six-week vacation in Louisville, following a home-town fight with
Knockout Specialist LaMar Clark (whom Clay knocked out), Cassius returned to
Miami and Dundee, 15 pounds overweight. He checked into the Sir John Hotel, a
rambling, pinkish construction that folds itself around a mint-green swimming
pool, in Miami's downtown colored quarter. The next morning, in a plaid madras
sport coat, starched khaki pants and "ready" yellow shoes, he swaggered
out to greet his public.
Sonny's Downtown Barber Shop comes to animated life when Cassius swings in the
door. "Look who the cat dragged in," says Sonny in a bless-my-soul tone
of voice, and the man half-asleep under the hot towels starts up in surprise.
Cassius gives the collected company the big wave, and when asked whom he'll
fight next, his answer is "Johansson in a couple of weeks, and Floyd
Patterson, I guess, this winter."