How tall are you?" said Cassius Clay to Douglas Jones the other day. "Why do you ask that?" said Jones, warily.
"So's I can know in advance how far to step back when you fall in four," said Cassius merrily, and waltzed away with his knot of laughing admirers.
Jones did not fall in four, or six, or at any other time during his 10-round fight last week with the bumptious Clay. What did fall as a consequence was a chunk of the prestige Clay has spent the last two years developing, partly with his muscle but mostly with his mouth. And though he won the decision. Clay was roundly jeered by the bulk of 18,732 fans in Madison Square Garden. It was a sorry showing for the man who thinks he is ready for Sonny Liston.
Not that the best can't have their off nights. But this must have been Clay's offest. his worst professional fight ever. In a sense, it may have been his first professional fight. Doug Jones, even in defeat, is far ahead of any man Clay has fought before. "Welcome to the big time," Jones said in effect—and graphically—to Clay in the first round with a dizzying right to the head that stopped Clay cold in his tracks. And Jones was still saying it. if haltingly at the end.
"But Cassius. you looked like an amateur," said Clay's trainer. Angelo Dundee, the next day.
"I sure underestimated that man," said Clay.
"I can't think of anything Clay did well," said Doug Jones bitterly, nursing no wound except that to his spirit and firmly convinced that the officials had been out to lunch when they totted up their scorecards. The two judges scored it 5-4-1 for Clay. The referee—Lord forgive him. for it was his first big fight and he knew not what he was doing—scored it 8-1-1 for Clay. But televiewer Sonny Liston. though unimpressed, said Clay had won.
Of course, Clay did do some things well, and principal among these (discounting for the moment his singlehanded job of building up a gate that netted him somewhere around $45,000 and Jones $40,000) was the comeback he made in the final rounds to save himself from sure defeat. "I told him in the corner after the seventh." said Dundee, "he could kiss Tomato Red goodbye." The reference was to Cassius' ambition at the moment, which is to own an $8,000 Cadillac convertible painted tomato-red and promised to him as a bonus by his sponsors."I'd forgot all about that. I'd been so busy trying to keep that Jones off me," said Cassius later. " Dundee shook me up. I came out in the eighth saying, 'So long, Dougie, hello, Tomato Red.' "
If that, or something else did it ("Sheer will, heart and guts did it," said Bill Faversham, Clay's manager), Clay had the gumption then to demonstrate how good a fighter he can be, and for the last three rounds looked, a little bit at least, like the fighter he says he can be. But once Clay had failed to knock Jones out in the fourth, as he had predicted he would, the crowd became blind to all his later efforts. Because Clay lost that fourth-round battle, too many convinced themselves that Jones won the war—which is illogical in any case and untrue in this one. Jones fought one of the best fights of his career, but Clay, fighting his worst, still got the fair decision.
Naturally, Clay's showing looked all the worse because he himself had contributed hugely to the idea that he is invincible. Gullible people, when they discover he is not, feel duped and turn against him. Clay is wise enough to know this—but to know at the same time that it is box office. For a week before the fight he worked on the nerves of New York and managed to sell out the Garden for the first time in six years.