Now Ali was
touching the Bear! Newsmen instinctively recoiled. There goes the fight,
everyone thought, as Ali taunted, yelled and generally unnerved Liston, who
could not believe what was happening to his act. Bundini excelled in moments
like this; he had a never-ending variety of catchy phrases and a loud mouth,
and although he was safely behind Ali, he was not cowed or scared by Liston and
made it obvious to all. Sugar Ray fought to keep from falling off the stage: he
would not have been the first to be knocked off a stage by the runaway team of
Ali and Bundini. Angelo smiled helplessly at the press. He knew the act was
killing Liston, and he loved it. To his credit, he has never stopped a winning
ploy and is willing to do anything to win a fight. Angelo Dundee was the only
person there who knew Ali was going to win. Many thought he might but no one
knew it, and certainly no one admitted thinking it before the fight. After the
fight, the experts who picked Ali were plentiful.
At this point in
the story, it is well to reflect on how some newspapermen become pundits. They
simply predict a fact and then work like hell to make their prediction come
true. Enter the late Jimmy Cannon. Jimmy was one fine writer but not the most
lovable of men. Acid is the word that springs to mind when I think of little
Jimmy Cannon embattled on all fronts—mad at the airlines that brought him, mad
at the hotel that housed him, the restaurant that fed him, the promotion, the
promoters, the fighters, his colleagues, and generally mad at the world. Still,
Jimmy could make a story happen.
Cannon had been
writing that Ali was scared to death, and ergo, this act was that of a
hysterical man on the way to the gallows. Many bought this idea and wrote it,
and so a spark was born. At the time of the weigh-in, the doctor on the Miami
Beach Boxing Commission was Dr. Alex Robbins, an irascible type with a
no-nonsense approach. Imagine his chagrin when he had to examine Ali and found
his blood pressure to be 200/100, with his pulse galloping out of control. The
fight was threatened. What was the cause of this hypertension? Dr. Robbins was
stuck. In doubt as to the reason for such a strange condition, he looked around
for help from a friendly face. Jimmy Cannon slid into the next chair and
whispered, "Could it be that the kid is scared to death, Doc?"
A small bulb lit
in Dr. Robbins' head and he nodded gravely. "Yes, yes, Mr. Cannon. This
fighter is scared to death and if his blood pressure is the same at fight time,
it is all off."
again. I am appointed to go to Ali's house and take his blood pressure hourly
to assure everyone that he is O.K. in case of litigation.
The ride is pure
joy. Bundini and the crowd are in high spirits. They are sure they whipped the
ole Bear's head good. Ali is in great spirits. We enter Ali's house. I walk
into Ali's bedroom. He smiles serenely and thrusts out his arm. I take my first
blood pressure: 120/80. Normal. I look at Ali, who is as cool as a snake and
smiling. I try to look serious. "Why did you do that, Ali?" I ask.
"Why did you act so nutty up there in front of all those people?"
forward, whispering, in the time-honored way that both gets your attention and
commands your respect. "Because Liston thinks I am a nut. He is scared of
no man, but he is scared of a nut because he doesn't know what I am going to
It was then that
I made up my mind to bet a sizable chunk on Ali. Liston did not stand a chance
against this wacky kid. Ali went off at 6-1 and we all cleaned up.
The second Liston
fight, in Lewiston, Maine, began with a trim, fleet Ali circling and a
ponderous Sonny chasing him with his familiar Chicago-style shuffle. His timing
was predictable in that he had to shuffle forth with two steps and on the third
throw a left jab. Set and repeat. Ali was there through the first two steps but
was gone by the third, and Liston was whistling that heavy artillery jab into
the still Maine air. Two and a half minutes into the round, Liston had caught a
few good Ali counterpunches but had not landed anything effective as yet and
was becoming impatient and abandoned in his attack. At this moment, the Phantom
Punch was uncorked.
Ali had a cute
maneuver wherein he used the rope to play off and throw a sneaky short overhand
right over an opponent's extended left jab. I have seen him do this in the gym
hundreds of times and have seen him catch fighters completely off guard in many
bouts with this cutie move, but I must confess I never saw anybody go down with
that shot. Now, many years later, looking at the films for the hundredth time,
I see Liston's face turn with the punch, his eyes blink; he loses his
equilibrium and falls. At the time, I did not see anything but Liston falling,
but Liston was hit with that one-in-a-million shot. Even he was mortal, and
even he had one spot that would short-circuit his brain for an instant. I
agree, Ali is not a devastating puncher, but when he has to, when the chips are
down, he knocks them out.