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Angelo Dundee
August 21, 1967
Ali never doubted that he could strip Sonny Liston of the heavyweight title, says Dundee, and was the calm eye of a continuous storm as he embraced the Black Muslims, beat Liston again and taunted Patterson
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August 21, 1967

Ali Takes A Crown And A Cause

Ali never doubted that he could strip Sonny Liston of the heavyweight title, says Dundee, and was the calm eye of a continuous storm as he embraced the Black Muslims, beat Liston again and taunted Patterson

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Cassius Clay has always had a genius for creating excitement before his fights, but I doubt that even he will ever be able to match the uproar he brought about before the first championship fight with Sonny Liston in Miami Beach.

Not many people gave him a chance against Liston. Sonny had demolished Floyd Patterson twice and was generally regarded as a superman. Some columnists even said that the fight should be canceled, warning that Liston might do permanent injury to poor little Cassius. None of this had any effect on Clay. He was the same fighter in the gym he had always been, and he was as confident of beating Liston as he had been of beating any of the fighters he had met during the three years I trained him before the championship match.

He took the psychological play away from Liston early, with the help and encouragement of Drew Brown. I don't know how much effect all their antics had on Sonny, but they did one thing—they began to destroy the image of the superman that Liston had used to psych most of his opponents. Liston had a thing going for him. He always tried to look bigger and meaner than life. I mean, he would come into the ring for a workout wearing a hood and a robe with a couple of towels under the shoulders, so that he looked even bigger than he was. In training he'd go through the routine with the medicine ball, letting Willie Reddish pound him in the stomach with it, and if you didn't know better you had to believe he really was superhuman. Any fighter in good condition can take a medicine ball in the belly. It's so big it distributes the impact. A fist in a glove, thrown as hard, is a different thing.

Aside from the antics Clay went through to bug Liston, he created additional excitement by admitting—or proclaiming—for the first time that he was a Muslim. The first I heard about it was when Bill McDonald, the promoter, came to the gym in a sweat one afternoon. "There are rumors around town that Clay is a Black Muslim," he told me, very excited. "This can kill the gate! You have to get him to deny it, Angie. Tell him what he's doing to me."

I told him to talk to Clay himself, and he and Cassius went off together for about half an hour. Then McDonald left, very unhappy. I asked Clay what happened.

"He say if I am a Muslim he may have to call the fight off," Clay said. He wasn't disturbed. "Look like they may not be a fight, Angie."

I don't know if his announcing his membership in the Muslims hurt the gate or not, but I knew Clay well enough to know that once he had made his mind up no one would change it. Funny thing is that I should have suspected it earlier. There were some Muslims hanging around the gym before the fight, but I didn't recognize them. Once Malcolm X came in, and McDonald wanted to get him out of the gym right away, before any reporters saw him. He left quietly.

After Clay told the reporters that he had joined the Muslims, I used to sit in the gym next to a big guy named Sam Saxon and tell him it was a shame what was happening to Clay and how much I hoped that he would give up the Muslim idea. I thought he was just off on a kick and that he would get over it, and I told Saxon that. Saxon would nod and smile a little and not say anything. Then one day while I was talking to him another man came up to him and called him Captain Sam, and that was the first I knew that he was a Muslim.

It was at this time, too, that Cassius decided he would be called Muhammad Ali. That was all right with me. My name was Mirena before I had it changed legally to Dundee. Joe Louis' real name is Barrow. I could give you a dozen or more instances of fighters who have changed their names.

I did suggest to Muhammad that he keep Cassius Clay as a ring name and use Muhammad Ali in private life. I pointed out that he had built up a big reputation as Cassius Clay and it would be foolish to change, but he said that Elijah Muhammad had given him the name of Muhammad Ali and that he was going to use it. I didn't try to argue with him about it.

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