I knew he wasn't
kidding. His eyes were red and watering. I had been running plain water over
them to clear them. I tasted the water in the bucket to make sure there wasn't
anything in it and then I put my finger in the corner of his eye. Then I put it
in my own eye and it stung. So I figured it had to be something on Liston's
face that caused it.
Before the fight,
oddly, Liston had tried to give Ali the evil eye. He was built up, as usual,
with two towels under his robe and the big hood to make him look more
impressive, but he didn't impress Ali at all. He tried to stare Ali down, and
Ali laughed at him. "I ain't no Patterson," he told Liston. "I got
By the end of the
sixth round Liston knew he was whipped. His shoulder might have been hurt, but
it wouldn't have made any difference if it had been healthy. He knew he was in
the ring with a better man. When it was all over, Ali was the heavyweight
champion of the world. The group gave me a $20,000 bonus for the fight, which
was the first real money I made out of training Ali.
Ali went off to
tour Africa, and I was busy with the other fighters I train. We signed to fight
Liston again, in Boston, and when Ali came back from Africa I got a shock. He'd
had a good time in Africa, understandably. But when he came into the gym he
weighed 245 pounds and he was fat. He'd had a ball in Africa, but he paid for
it. He was ashamed of the way he looked; he used to walk to the gym in a rubber
suit, trying to sweat off the weight, but it came off hard. I think one of the
things that ruins a fighter is ballooning between fights and then having to
work to take the weight off again. This was the only time it happened to Ali.
He is proud of the way he looks and he doesn't let himself gain much weight
between fights. The Africa tour was a special thing.
We took it slow
and easy at first. I didn't want to burn him out trying to get the fat off.
Actually, I think it was all the extra weight that brought on the hernia that
postponed the second Liston fight. When it happened, it was a complete
surprise. He was working good, and neither Ali nor I had any idea he had
anything wrong with him until it happened. We were in Boston, and it happened
on a Friday evening. I'm a football nut and Boston College was playing Miami
that night. I have season tickets to all the Miami home games and I was
watching this game on television with Johnny Crittenden, a Miami sportswriter.
Luther Evans was doing the color on the show and he came on between the first
and second quarters and said that the Clay-Liston fight was off because Clay
had just been taken to the hospital with a severe hernia. I thought he must be
kidding at first, but he said it again and I ran out and jumped into a cab and
said, "Take me to the hospital." The cab driver looked at me like I was
nuts. "There are 20 hospitals in Boston. Which one?" he said.
I had to go back
to the hotel and find out which hospital they took him to. By the time I got
there they had a police guard outside his room to keep out all the people who
wanted to get in. By the time he got over the operation and started working
again the fight had been moved to Lewiston. I figured that the thing Ali had to
do in the second fight was remind Liston what had happened to him in the first
that sticks in his craw," I told Ali, "is that he thinks he can lick
you. You got to take that confidence away from him early. You got to bring back
memories of Miami Beach." So our plan was to get off fast and then coast
and make Liston fight our fight.
As usual, the
scene before the fight was pretty hectic. One afternoon me and some other
people went out to the arena in Ali's red Cadillac to check the ring and see if
it was regulation. It was a good thing we did, because the ring they had in
Lewiston was a wrestling ring, as bouncy as a trampoline. Eventually they had
to ship in a boxing ring from Baltimore. A ring as soft as the first one would
have cut Ali's speed down and been a big advantage for Liston.
Anyway, after we
went out there in the red car and checked the ring, some writers had it that a
bunch of Muslim opponents had been out casing the place, hoping to shoot Ali
and get revenge for the assassination of Malcolm X. Actually, there never was
any real hint of that kind of danger, but the possibility existed. I think if I
had been Ali I might have skipped the whole thing, but nothing bothers him. One
thing he got out of being a Muslim was a sure faith that Allah is taking care
was in perfect shape. He had no ill effects from the hernia operation, and he
trained real well. He is not an impressive gym fighter. I don't like my
fighters to go in for vicious workouts in the gym. I like them to train in the
gym, not fight. If they have to fight for their lives every afternoon in the
gym, it only shortens their fistic careers. Ali and Jimmy Ellis had ideal
workouts. They were always trying to outthink each other, and they learned from
each other all the time. They didn't try to make punching bags out of each
other. I could tell when Ali was ready by his moves. The sharper he got, the
better he moved and the easier he made the moves. When he came back from
Africa, before he got the hernia, he could barely move at all. He got decked by
a sparring partner, Chip Johnson, because he couldn't get out of the way. When
they had finished the round, Johnson said to Ali, "It was an accident, man.
You was off balance."