sumptin' else, Doc," he said. "I didn't feel a thing."
He knew I was
going to the gym, and I gave him a ride in my new Cadillac. He was telling me
all about cars and what he was going to do when he won the title. Some kid, I
thought; he hasn't gotten started yet, and he's talking about what cars he is
going to own and what he is going to do with all his money.
Clay had been
sent to Angelo for training. For lack of better housing, he was put in the Mary
Elizabeth Hotel in the ghetto on Second Avenue. The Mary Elizabeth was a
hellhole of pimps, hookers, drug dealers, winos and general bad guys. Into this
abscess came the innocent boy athlete, and a strange thing happened. Because of
his gregarious nature, his size and accomplishments, Clay was adopted by the
hustlers. They protected him. That hotel was totally committed to gratifying
the carnal senses and desires. Yet Cassius Clay held on to his innocence and
his sense of destiny. At this stage of his career he had adopted a Spartan
attitude and held that his body was his future. His one ambition was to be the
heavyweight champion, and he had not deviated from it since he had been a
At night, Clay's
new friends would entice him down the street to a lively cabaret called the Sir
John and there, in the company of some of the sleaziest characters in the
ghetto, the kid would groove on the night life. He would sit and watch, quietly
sipping an orange juice. No one forced him to have any booze, and nobody
suggested drugs to him; he was protected by the hustlers, and they took pride
in him. Sissies passed him admiringly. If beautiful, long-legged, full-bottomed
ladies, strutting by with their pimps, paused, someone would say, "Naw, not
him. He's fighting next week in L.A. What you trying to do, hurt our man?"
At a reasonable hour, Clay would get up and walk the two blocks to his hellhole
room and pass the night by himself.
At dawn he would
get up and do roadwork on Biscayne Boulevard, in front of my residential area,
Bay Point. While he ran, I slept; and when I began my day in my office, he
slept. Then we both would go to the gym at midday by different routes. I would
get into my air-conditioned Cadillac and cruise over the MacArthur Causeway,
sometimes passing the young Cassius Clay, running with a sort of racehorse
beauty in his heavy work boots. He would wave and smile, and I would think,
"That is going to be some tough nut for Sonny Liston to crack."
1964—Cassius Clay was now Muhammad Ali. We gathered for the weigh-in, and
everyone was in a state of high excitement except Angelo, who was typically
unaware of anything but the job at hand, his highly professional mind working
on the practical details of the weigh-in and the psychological warfare that was
about to begin.
Robinson, a hero of Ali's youth, had been brought in at heavy expense and was
attempting to talk some sense of decorum into the kid. Ali listened
attentively, nodding his head vigorously in agreement. Yes, yes, this was the
biggest event of his life and the biggest sports event of the year; yes sir,
yes sir. He was aware that he had acted childishly in the past but this was for
the whole ball of wax; and, no sir, he would not do anything to bring disgrace
on his race or on Sugar Ray or on any of the other pros who were with him. Yes,
yes, and get lost, Sugar Ray.
At the door of
the Miami Beach Convention Hall—the same place where, as a raw beginner pro, he
had stepped in to work with Ingo Johansson as a sparring partner and made a
monkey out of him—Ali paused to take stock of the scene. More than 800 newsmen
from all over the world were in attendance. Then, suddenly, he hit the door at
full stride, with his assistant trainer, Bundini Brown, struggling to keep up,
hanging on to his robe belt. Both were at full voice, shouting their old war
slogans for the millionth time: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,
rumble, young man, rumble!
head snapped around, and there he was, reduced to a mere spectator at his own
weigh-in. The war of nerves was over. Sonny was down for the count. His
most-feared psychological ploy was taken from him, and he could no longer stand
on a commanding perch, glaring menacingly down on a cowed adversary. Soon the
place was in pandemonium. Most reporters had picked Sonny; in fact, only eight
out of the 800 had picked Ali.
Now the fighters
were literally nose to nose, and, surprise of surpises, Ali was taller and
bigger than the Bear. As has happened to many a hapless victim, Sonny had
underestimated Ali's size because of his baby features and his smooth,
seemingly unmuscled body.