But to what avail? Clay is convinced that he is indestructible, because Allah is looking out for him. As a boxer he has a great thing going for him with the Allah routine. Now he has confidence on top of everything else. There is no better example than the second Liston fight. Against all the prefight strategy, Clay ran out at the bell and landed a good right on Liston and then proceeded to do virtually nothing until seconds before the knockout. In the interim he allowed Liston to punch him. It grieved Dundee, but he has learned to put up with it. Clay is truly something else. Besides being a genius in his chosen craft or art, he has a mind of his own, has never readily adapted to instruction and is endlessly tinkering and perfecting. For instance, he conditions his body by letting his sparring partners beat it. This unusual kind of masochism is actually in step with advance thinking on the subject by medical authorities. Dr. Peter Karpovich, the eminent physiologist, has said: "The best way to develop muscle is to do the particular thing you want to use it for."
Clay has been boxing since he was 12, and the things he now does no longer have any roots in intellection. "Isn't nature wonderful," he said once, in a glen in Massachusetts. "What makes moss grow on one side of a tree and not the other? Why do birds fly south and then north in the spring, and why do fish swim upstream to lay eggs? Nature is a mysterious thing. It is just like me. Sometimes I wonder when a big fist comes crashing by and at the last moment I just move my head the smallest bit and the punch comes so close I can feel the wind, but it misses me. How do I know at the last minute to move just enough? How do I know which way to move?"
And the things he does are too numerous to be cataloged. Take the fifth round of the first Liston fight, when, blinded by a caustic solution, Clay kept Liston at bay and broke his concentration just by touching him on the forehead with his left. Or, as Dundee says, marveling, "He'll even miss you on purpose." In addition, he has this absolute preoccupation with boxing, with his body, with himself. Unlike Patterson, he can tune everything else out. Only one topic takes precedence—his absorption with the Muslims. "If Elijah asked me to quit boxing today, I would do so," he has said.
"I got a feeling I was born for a purpose," Clay explained the other night. He was being driven to Larry's Music Bar in the Negro district of Las Vegas, wearing a pink sport coat that glowed spectrally in the dark interior of the car. Clay himself was nearly invisible. (Earlier, Patterson, walking by the parking lot, had seen him. "Actually, all we saw was a pink sport coat," he said later. "We knew who it was.") "I don't know what I'm here for," Clay went on. "I just feel abnormal, a different kind of man. I don't know why I was born. I'm just here. A young man rumbling. I've always had that feeling since I was a little boy. Perhaps I was born to fulfill Biblical prophecies. I just feel I may be part of something—divine things. Everything seems strange to me."