Everything looks a little bigger than life now. Muhammad Ali, moving on the old familiar red canvas of the ring in the Fifth Street Gym in Miami, belaboring a squatty heavyweight from Jamaica, is thicker in all of his dimensions. A barely discernible pad of fat blurs the outlines of a waist that once was slim as a girl's, but the weight is spread evenly; the shoulders are thicker, with heavier muscles, and the arms and legs give the impression now of solid, mature power. He was once a big heavyweight who looked like an overgrown light heavy; now he is a big heavyweight who looks like a big heavyweight.
On this first day of serious preparation for his fight with Joe Frazier, Ali worked six rounds. He went two with the squat Jamaican, two more with a tall, light heavyweight and a final two with a middleweight. He worked with all the spirit and fire he had before the first Liston fight, talking to the hundred-odd people gathered in the grimy gym to watch. Once the middleweight hit him a light blow to the jaw with his right and Muhammad fell heavily. He climbed laboriously to his hands and knees, shaking his head dramatically, then toppled over again, for all the world like Liston in the first round of their second fight, in Maine. It was a good act and a fine put-on, and the small crowd howled with laughter.
Later, having finished a virtuoso performance on the light bag, a skill he developed after the Liston fights to toughen his hands, he sat on the edge of a rubbing table and shook his head, his face for once serious.
"These first days are hard," he said, though he was breathing easily. "Ain't in my lungs—they all right. It's in my muscles. They get tired. Ain't like when I was a young man. Now I'm older, gonna be 29."
He no longer has a baby face. The planes are wider and stronger, and he looks tough. There still are no marks on his face, but somehow it belongs to a fighter. "The dancing is no longer necessary," he said. "When I fought Mildenberger, Patterson, Liston, all of them, I could feel their strength when they leaned on me. Now that ain't true no more. Now I hit with mature strength. All of them punches I threw—bop, bop, bop, bop—maybe a thousand punches, nobody goes down. Now it's gonna be different. Bop! And down he goes."
He looked down at the thickened waist and felt himself there. "I'm 228 now," he said. "I'm gonna fight maybe 215, 218. Used to be I wanted to keep that slim, beautiful body, but I'm getting older and I'm getting stronger, and I'm naturally getting bigger. I ain't so slim, but I don't want to be. Now I'm a mature man. A strong man."
A photographer from Ebony magazine asked him to pose with Jimmy Ellis and he got up, kidding with Ellis. They feinted at each other a few times and he reached out and held Ellis off with a long left arm, demonstrating that Ellis could not get to him. Ellis broke up and the photographer asked them to look serious. They glared at each other for a moment and laughed again after the picture had been snapped.
"You next," Ali said to Ellis. "Seven days after you fight me, you gonna be a week-old ghost." He sat down in a chair against the wall and kept talking.
"Tomorrow morning I start running," he said. "Three miles. I get up to five, but no more. People ask me if I lost anything, if I ain't as sharp. I'm just as sharp. I just fight different now. They worry about my condition. They should worry about Frazier's. He's rustier than me. He went only two rounds with Foster and just a few rounds with Ellis. Meantime, I had three rounds with Quarry and 15 rounds with Bonavena. Oscar did me a favor. He got me in shape for Frazier."
He got up and hunched over and threw some short, awkward punches. "The Quarry fight," he said. "Now Quarry don't move much, look for you to come to him, so I fight him one way. I move around him, hit him. I felt good. I been away 3½ years, no other heavyweight in the history of the world could come back and beat up Quarry like I did, quicker than Joe Frazier. And I felt good. Strong. Never got tired. Fought him the way I wanted to.