Some time after the eighth round on the night of May 25, in the small and unlikely town of Lewiston, Me., Cassius Marcellus Clay (who would much rather be called Muhammad Ali) will certify his claim to the heavyweight championship of the world by knocking out challenger Sonny Liston (see cover).
This, of course, is an opinion—and there are other opinions which hold that neither man should be in that ring at all, Clay because of his allegiance to the Black Muslim organization and Liston because of his alleged underworld connections. But no amount of opinion can alter the fact that these two men are the best heavyweights in the world. A year ago in Miami Beach they produced a turbulent and exciting fight, and now another one is in prospect.
Although he is likely to end up a battered and well-beaten fighter, Liston will not quit in his corner this time. But, unfortunately for him, the Clay he meets in Lewiston is a surer, more mature and more expert fighter than the Clay who beat him in Miami Beach; Liston himself is a year older, a trifle slower and, although he has whipped himself into exceptional condition, a bit less certain of his abilities.
"I made a mistake in Miami I ain't going to make again," he said the other day in his training camp. "I got new plans for this fight, but I ain't saying what they are. But I ain't making the same mistake."
In his workouts for the fight, the new plans seemed obvious. In Miami he came after Clay hell for leather in the first round, a tactic made to order for a man with Clay's speed and ability to float like a butterfly. Against his sparring partners this time Liston has moved deliberately, stalking them and waiting for a chance to deliver his best punch—the left hook with which he twice demolished Floyd Patterson. In Willie Richardson and Amos (Big Train) Lincoln he has sparring partners who are far superior to the nondescript crew he worked against in Miami Beach. Both men are quick, and Lincoln is as tall as Clay; they have forced Liston to work hard and often they have made him look clumsy, but he has caught both of them time and again with that vicious, short-arc left hook.
Once Richardson, in a poor imitation of Clay's hands-down style, bounced off the ropes directly into the left hook and dropped as if shot. Richardson is the only sparring partner in either camp who has sparred with both Clay and Liston. After he had been revived he said, "The man here hurt you whenever he hit. And Clay can be hit. You can't go after him swinging all the time, because that what he like. He move around, dance in, hit you pop, pop, pop, dance out, make you miss, hit you pop, pop, pop again and it begin to hurt bad after a while. But I used to wait and wait and look for my shot, and I hit him pretty good. That was three years ago, and they kept me around only four days because I wasn't doing the way they want me to do."
He felt his face gingerly.
"This man can whip Clay," he said, "if he can hit him."
That, of course, is Liston's problem, and it seems doubtful that he will solve it. He has worked earnestly at developing a right-hand punch to the body, but when he throws it it is ponderous. Liston is left flat-footed and spraddle-legged, and this is one of the things Clay counts on.
The other morning, hacking ineptly at a tree in the woods near his training camp in Chicopee Falls, Mass., Clay expounded his fight philosophy.