This is what made me so disgusted with myself and why I'm so determined to prove that my own miscalculations were the cause of what happened to me. The past lives so vividly in my memory that I can't forget it. After the first fight I kept telling myself that maybe he hit me with a lucky punch. As I prepared for the second fight, Danny Florio, my trainer then but my manager now, showed me the films of Machen against Liston. Eddie went the distance, but maybe that was his main aim. I should have boxed, but Liston thought I was afraid of him, and this bothered me to the extent that I went in against him the second time to prove that I was not afraid, and I proved nothing. I would have been better off going into a locked room with him and seeing which one of us would have come out.
There are many things of which I'm unsure, but there are two things of which I'm absolutely certain: I am not a dirty fighter and I'm not physically afraid of any man alive. When I'm in the ring it never enters my mind to be knocked out or be hurt. In fact, I'm so unafraid of punches, it's the only reason I get hit sometimes. It was the reason Liston knocked me out the second time, and that was just plain stupid. I went to his strength instead of forcing him to come to mine, letting him try to slug and then countering, as I would the next time—if there is a next time.
Before I fought Machen, I wasn't sure there would be. There is always a little doubt, but the ease with which I won over him erased that in my mind. The referee gave him only one round and scored nine for me, with two even. Yet some who saw the fight in Stockholm still didn't think much of me as a future opponent for Clay and Liston because I didn't knock Machen out.
One of those was Ingemar Johansson, who beat me for my title once and was knocked out twice by me in return bouts. I always feel strange talking to him because I never was as vicious in my life as I was the night I won back my title from him. All I wanted to do was hit him and hit him again until I destroyed him. When he was on the canvas and being counted out, with the blood trickling from a corner of his mouth and one foot shaking in a spasm, I thought I had killed him.
Yet in my dressing room in Sweden immediately after the Machen fight, Ingemar said: "You are too kind, Floyd. You are much too nice. You take a step back when you should take a step toward. You had Machen hurt. You could have knocked him out."
I knew I had Machen hurt several times. In the 11th round, for instance, I cut his eye with a right. Later I knocked him down. Both times I could have moved in again quickly without giving him time to recover. Each time, how ever, I looked in his face and all I could see was the look of hurt and defeat. I was ahead on points. I knew his style by then and I couldn't anticipate his hitting me with a lucky punch. He was tiring and wasn't hurting me, so what would be the point in hurting him more? Would it have made me a bigger man to knock out a man who had been in an institution, was almost broke and was on a comeback that had been successful until he met me? I'm glad I didn't knock him out. It wasn't necessary.
Don't misunderstand me. I wasn't giving Machen chances, but he was just one thing, a hindrance. I would feel different about Clay and Liston. Against them I would take advantage of every opportunity, because they represent the chance for me to get back to the form—yes, the viciousness—that I experienced against Ingemar. Against anybody else I want to win, but not much more. Against them I would want to destroy. I wouldn't stop punching against Clay. I'd want to get him out of the ring as quickly as possible.
You could ask: Why is it so important? I've argued that out with myself so many times. Why don't I just retire and forget it? Sandra, my wife, has asked me that. My friends have asked me that. I have all the money and security I'll ever need, but security is more than houses, cars, clothes, education for my children and investments. It is saying to yourself that you've done all that you have to do.
I'm going to be 30 in January. I've accomplished more in my lifetime than I ever had any right to expect when I was an emotionally unstable child wandering the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant slum in Brooklyn and being confused in a world I could not understand. I was the youngest ever to win the title and the only man ever to regain it, but I still have that feeling of emptiness inside me. It's a sense of discomfort because of the embarrassment of what happened with Liston. Call it shame, pride or a search for peace. A man cannot put almost 15 years of his life into the ring and leave it because of what happened to him in less than five minutes. Can he turn his back on it with the suspicion that all those years might have been wasted?
To understand what I'm doing, you would have to walk in my shoes. Any normal person would retire, but maybe I'm not normal. People didn't think so after I drove out of Chicago behind the false beard and mustache. A man who considered himself a champion shouldn't have gone down as easily as I did. You can't face people and be yourself when you let them down the way I did. Up to that point I know that everything I did was right. All the deprivation I underwent, all the punishment and loneliness to which a fighter must subject himself was the price I had to pay for what I achieved. Whether what I'm doing now is right, I don't know. The beginning was right. The middle was right, but whether the end is right, only time will tell. I tell myself it is, but unfortunately you can't look ahead anymore than you can stop time and make up for all the years of pleasure that you've lost.