"But I got to get used to the lights and all the people and all that. I felt kind of tight and tense, but not in any way but in my mind. I had to get used to all that noise, all them people dressed up like peacocks come to see the champion of the world fight. Once I got used to that I was all right."
He was obviously enjoying himself, happy to be the center of attention, confident, full of talk. "The Bonavena fight," he said. "I was fooled by Bonavena. I most surely was fooled. Yeah. And maybe I took him too light. It was the kind of lesson could have been too expensive. No, I wasn't my best. Maybe it was my worst performance, but I won. I knocked out Oscar and that's something Bad Joe Frazier hasn't been able to do in 25 rounds. Everybody's yelling and screaming, 'Joe Frazah! Joe Frazah!' Joe Frazah whupped Bob Foster in two rounds! Knocked him dead! And Ali had life and death with Oscar Bonavena! Humpf. Bob Foster, a li'l ol' 180-pounder. Now ain't that something! I wouldn't even spar with a man that size. But the press and the bookies are shouting who-e-e-e! Joe Frazah knocked him out, knocked him dead!
"What they should have done is to look what I did to Oscar and what Oscar did to Joe Frazier. Now, you tell me what Bonavena did to Frazier. All he did was to knock Joe Frazier down twice in their first fight and then whip his face so bad that his eyes were swollen closed. And when it was all over, Joe Frazier fainted in his dressing room. Exhausted. Dead tired. Unable to move.
"Now ain't that something? I don't say Oscar was easy—he wasn't. But me, I won 13 rounds and then I knocked him out. I'm satisfied. I beat Frazier's toughest opponent, and that should be the measuring stick. I would have beaten Oscar worse, really whupped him, if he had fought the way he did in his other fights. But Bonavena is tricky. Instead of chasing me, like he usually does, he just stood in the middle of the ring. ...No point in dancing with him 'cause I'd be dancing alone. I had to come to him, and that's when he tried to fight. But I'm a scientific fighter. I know how to tie up, how to spin a man, turn him around in a corner and walk away—and that's what I did with Bonavena. He was strong, I could tell it, much stronger than Joe Frazier, but I handled him.
"I made a lot of mistakes in that fight, and it cost me. I got careless with him in the ninth round, and you can't do that with Oscar. He's awkward and sneaky—a sneak puncher. In that ninth round I got hit by a hook harder than Frazier could ever throw. Numb! Like I was numb all over. Just numb. Shock and vibrations is all I felt, that's how I knew I was alive. I mean I was jarred. Even my toes felt the vibrations. Bong! Like you take a piece of spring and you hit it. B-o-n-g. That's how I felt. The first thought that came to mind—another good one or two might have dropped me. But see, a real champion can react to the occasion.
"Like Ellis, for instance. Now Ellis got hit, tagged, shook by Frazier. Here it is the biggest thing in his life and what does he do? He gets right up, goes right back in and starts slugging again. Another big punch and he goes down again. Gets up and starts slugging while he's still numb. Now everybody knows you're most vulnerable then and you go down even quicker. So you're not brave to do that, just foolish. And dumb. The crowd knows it. They start hollering because they know if you get hit again, it will make you go quicker. So the minute I'm hit—two steps backward and I'm on the other side of the ring. Out of danger. Messages race out of my mind—retreat, retreat, danger, danger. I hear the messages and I'm moving, moving away. But I'm still watching and thinking.
"When you're in condition it takes only 10 seconds, then you're usually out of trouble. If he gets too close just clinch him. It don't take long to clear your mind when your body is right. Grab him, do anything, anything. Just stall for time and not let him know you're stunned. You have to be experienced enough to keep dancing with him like nothing's wrong. And all this happening while the crowd is hollering, the Garden is full, smoke's in the ring...pop, and then you're hit, hurt. When Joe Louis knocked down Max Schmeling, he gets up holding the rope—too dumb to back off, too dumb to grab him and hold him. When I saw Frazier knocking Ellis out with those little old short-handed hooks, I could just see me eating Frazier up. I could just see me leaning, jabbing and moving and him reaching and falling.
"Hit hard—how many times I been hit hard? Sonny Banks, a hook. Henry Cooper, hook. Sonny Liston, three times to the head. Body punches don't bother me. Chuvalo beat me to the body all night until he got discouraged. I don't think about Frazier's body punches. I take them in training for the fun of it. Jack Dempsey say Frazier gonna knock me out. I'm gonna prove I'm a better fighter and a better judge than Jack Dempsey. Never been a fighter like me, not in the history of the whole world. Never been a fighter so fast, so quick, so strong, so graceful, so good."
He talks easily, never at a loss for words, his eyes moving constantly, assessing the impact of what he is saying. Some of what he says is a put-on, but as he talks, he believes it himself.
"It's gonna be the champ and the tramp," he said. "Frazier never been in there with nobody like me."