Then, so suddenly that the crowd was stunned into a momentary silence, Williams went down from a left-right combination. He rose quickly and took a mandatory count of eight but resumed his fighting stance with a stunned look on his well-pummeled features. A thundering, withering barrage put him down again. But he came up, this time with blood streaming from his nose and mouth. He wasn't up long. Clay closed savagely, punching hard with well-set combinations. For the third time Williams crashed to the canvas. Before he could be counted out the bell rang.
The standard rule that declares it a KO if a fighter is knocked down three times within a round was waived for this championship fight. That is the only reason the match was permitted to continue into the third round, for there was not much point to it anymore. But the bell rang again and Williams and Ali rose from their stools to face each other once more.
For fleeting moments Williams had the crowd roaring encouragement. He came out of his corner on the attack, his hair awry, his fists flailing, only to find that he had no hope of reaching Ali. The champion met his onslaught with a right to the head, followed by a left and still another right. Ali repeated this combination with almost insolent ease, and then floored Williams with a hard left hook. The Cat arose with blood streaming from his mouth. Manfully and uselessly, he plodded once more into a forest of fists, one of which twisted him around so that his back was toward Ali. The champion bashed him with a left, a right, a left and then a right to his head, and, as Williams floundered about the ring, Referee Kessler stepped in and stopped it.
It was a sad night indeed for Williams' many followers in the Astrodome. They had seen him when he was as gallant as they knew him to be, but Monday night they saw him as a man who was no match at all for the brilliance of fist and foot that Champion Ali displayed. A Negro woman in a tight pink dress sobbed her way to the exits. "He went down fighting," she said. "I don't care what you say. He went down fighting." Her husband, carrying a pennant that proclaimed his allegiance to BIG CAT, flicked it disconsolately against her cheek. "Shut up," he said. "Shut up."
Williams recovered rather more quickly than some of his fans. He laughed, giggled and joked, not always relevantly, as he moved slowly toward his dressing room with a girl on each arm—his wife, Irene, and the wife of his trainer, Perry Payne.
"When he hit me with that right in the first round," he said, "I just didn't remember a thing." But then he thought about it some more and concluded: "Ah, he just shooken me up a little. He caught me before I could get started. I surprised myself. I dropped my left hand when I shouldn't have."
To Champion Ali, his weight was "the key" to the fight. At the noon weigh-in he stepped onto the scales at a surprising 212� pounds to Williams' 210�. Ali had weighed 202 pounds against Henry Cooper in London and 203 against Karl Mildenberger in Frankfurt, Germany.
"I wanted to be speedy," he claimed. "And also to be able to hit hard. And I did. But I could not keep it up. I was tired by the end of the fight.
"An ordinary fighter," he added as a characteristic afterthought, "would have been exhausted."
What was exhausted, really, was the number of fighters Ali can hope to meet with some prospect that any of them can make a match of it. His next opponent would appear to be Ernie Terrell, a musician who has been declared to be heavyweight champion of the world by the World Boxing Association. Terrell managed to get his jazz combo an engagement in Houston for the fight and he was in the audience with a hungry look. After the fight he made his way to Ali's dressing room and, at the request of a photographer, stepped close to the champion. Without warning, Ali jabbed him—not too playfully. An angry Terrell was grabbed in time to prevent an unprofitable ruckus. It did not appear to be the usual horseplay associated with the champion.