I can never
forget the dream. I sleep a lot and I dream a lot, but this was different
because it was the night before I fought Ingemar Johansson the second time and
that made the difference.
You've got to
understand how it is—being the heavyweight champion of the world and then not
being the champion. You've got to be able to feel what it means to be
somebody—to belong—and then suddenly you don't belong, and you wonder whether
you ever were meant to be a human being other people can look up to.
That's how it was
that night in my dream. I could see Ingemar throwing the jab and the hook. I
could see him letting the right hand go and doing many things. I could see
myself doing many things, but never once did I get to the end of the dream. I
never wanted to see the end. I just wouldn't let it end.
haunted me all the next day while I waited in my hotel room until we were ready
to leave for the Polo Grounds for the fight.
That second fight
against Ingemar was the crisis of my grown-up life. If ever I was in danger of
becoming the mixed-up kind of person again that I used to be as a kid that was
The morning after
the fight I opened my eyes, and the sun coming through the Venetian blinds
dazzled me momentarily. Temporarily I was back again with the dream of the
night before that I would not let end. Suddenly I realized that the dream had
ended. "I'm the champion," I said to myself. I won last night."
I remembered the
terrible anguish and shame at having been beaten the year before. I remembered
the darkness in all the rooms I had sat in and the silence I'd allowed to press
in on me and the many questions about myself I'd deliberately avoided
Ingemar lying there in the ring, his leg quivering, and I was scared. I thought
I hurt him real bad. I never saw anybody shake like that. I was frightened.
Most of my life I
had been frightened by one thing or another. As a child I was never at ease at
home or in school or in the streets.
I can't remember
ever having any fun at all, or even laughing until after I was placed in the
Wiltwyck School for Boys. That was in September 1945, when I was 10. I hated
laughter, because it seemed no matter what I did everybody always was laughing
at me. They'd laugh at the dirt on my face and the torn, shabby, oversized
clothes I wore and the way I couldn't read or write or answer a question in
school or even talk to somebody when they talked to me.