I never expected to hear that from Liston. It has no bearing on the fight. He's going to try to knock my head off and I'm going to try to do the same to him. It should be one of the toughest fights, if not the toughest, I've ever had.
I saw Sonny fight twice, against Cleveland Williams, and against Mike De-John. Both were on TV. I know he hits hard. I know he's strong and has a good jab. I know that Johansson saw movies of Liston fighting in the Golden Gloves and against Eddie Machen and Willi Besmanoff and told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that Liston is too slow to beat me. I hope Ingemar is right.
Liston is big and big men usually are slower, but you can hit a man 50 times and he can hit you once and make up for all the 50 times you hit him. He may be slower than Johansson was and possibly slower than Archie Moore when I knocked him out for the title, but he is not as slow as Ingemar said. I'll know for sure after September 25.
A lot of people say that the difference in speed is the only advantage I'll have. How, then, do I fight an opponent who is bigger and stronger, but not as fast as I? Actually, I don't have any set plan. You never do before a fight. You go into the fight and let the fight dictate your strategy. I have a few things in mind, of course, and if it becomes necessary I will use them.
Theoretically, however, against a bigger, slower man, you use your speed—your hand speed and speed afoot. That's your best weapon. You don't match your strength with his. He'll want to lay in close and rest his weight on you. You try to stay away so he doesn't lean all that weight on you. You make him carry it around and eventually his own weight begins to tell. He gets tired.
We'll have to wait and see if theory matches practice. From everything I've read that Liston's said, I've got to be prepared for him coming out and trying to bully me, to take the play away from me right off. He'll try to get it over by bombing me in the first round. Do I retreat or stand and face him? I might throw punches or I might retreat if I'm getting the worst of it. If I'm going back and getting the worst of it I may come in. I don't know.
I'm not a gambling fighter. I'm a cautious fighter because I want to win, but my mind goes from one extreme to the other. Some rounds I might gamble, depending upon what I see and feel. Some I may not.
Then there's the question of a heavy puncher like Sonny needing punching room. If you stay away you may give him that room, but it does not necessarily mean he's going to land the punches. If you stay in close he can lean that weight on you but I'm going into the fight hoping my body attack could be more severe than his. Liston has never had to withstand a real body attack. It could take away some of his eagerness.
What I'm trying to say is that I'll fight the best way I know how. It will be a cautious fight, but it will be a positive fight. Maybe I'll let Liston set the style. I can adjust to his. I've had enough championship fights to be able to train for any style, but naturally there's one big thing you have in mind because you train for every opponent differently.
When I trained for Moore I worked specifically on my defense. I kept my hands high. I learned to bob and weave and move from side to side. I worked for speed, using very fast sparring partners, some of them middleweights.