When Mathis began punching Willie, D'Amato had him throw only one punch every five seconds. Then he gradually speeded up the process, and Mathis can now deliver a five-punch combination in as little as three-fifths of a second. " Frazier couldn't do this," D'Amato says. "He wouldn't have the power, speed, coordination or stamina. Clay couldn't do it either. You have to have done this over a period of months and months."
Every day Mathis goes at least five rounds against Willie. Once, when he complained, D'Amato kept him at it extra hard, and when Mathis was through he had thrown, by D'Amato's count, 12,000 punches. D'Amato says, "I told him Clay had thrown only 1,760 punches in the Chuvalo fight and not to complain again." To which Mathis adds, "When I walk into the ring, I figure I gotta win. No one trains as hard as me, runs as hard as me or has had Cus on his back."
In the ring Mathis now uses a modification of the so-called peekaboo style. D'Amato denies that peekaboo is an apt description of the way he taught Patterson and Torres to hold their hands—both held forward, in front of the face. The style, he says, got its nickname from International Boxing Club stooges who were trying to downgrade him. "They downgraded it in contempt," D'Amato says, "but fighters who use it have respect for it—they don't get hit. When they do get hit, like Floyd against Liston, they aren't using it, or aren't using it right. You watch, more fighters now keep their hands up. Fighters who keep their hands down are gambling. They are gambling that they can anticipate the blow and then coordinate to block it. If every blow then becomes a gamble and a fighter continues to gamble long enough, he will get hit. Combination punching has made boxing with the hands down obsolete."
As an example, D'Amato cites Torres' win over Pastrano, and he adds, "Pastrano and Clay have similar styles, the same thinking processes in principle. Pastrano's downfall came from his inability to change his style, and when Torres showed that he could immobilize him, Pastrano was just an ordinary fighter. This is what I think could happen to Clay. The man who beats Clay must be able to reduce Clay's mobility—and then he's just another boxer. I wouldn't say Clay's style is made to order, but it wouldn't present the same problem to Buster that it does to anyone else."
The only training drawback so far, D'Amato says, is that Mathis suffers from a lack of awkward sparring partners. "I have to get awkward guys," says D'Amato. "Awkward guys can make you look bad, and their awkwardness forces a fighter to think. I try to get Buster to use his imagination. But awkward guys who are still competent are hard to find. A guy who is awkward and not competent, you can handle him. But a guy who is competently awkward can hit you, and you have to learn how to cope with him."
In an effort to get Mathis a better grade of sparring partners, Iselin is now offering to let ranking heavyweights who have signed for a fight train at his camp. Facilities and food will be free, and Mathis will be available for sparring. If Clay wants to come, he will be welcome, Iselin claims.
"Most young fighters are not afforded the opportunity they deserve to develop and become proficient fighters," says Iselin. "We have been offered main events with many fighters—Chuvalo, Eddie Machen, James Woody, Joe Frazier. What we want to do with Buster is make sure that when we send him into the ring we have done everything we can to insure that his performance will be up to par.
"Buster has reacted to good handling and good care so fast and improved so much it's amazing. But he still is, in many ways, an amateur. He must be seasoned. This is the same in any sport. In racing, 2-year-olds that are run hard usually end up breaking down and never have a career as 3-year-olds.
"Buster still has things to improve upon. We could have had 25 knockouts in a row if we wanted him to fight stiffs, but each fight he goes into must mean something. In Cassius Clay's first fights he had a lot of luck. He fought Sonny Banks, and he got knocked down. He fought Henry Cooper, and he went down. When he fought Doug Jones, he won by the skin of his teeth. When he fought Billy Daniels, Daniels was ahead on every card when all of a sudden a cut opened up over his right eye and they stopped the fight. In the first Liston fight, Clay wanted to quit.
"Well, this is a lot of luck. I don't want to bring Buster Mathis along with luck. I want to make sure that when he goes in there to do the job, he can."