Preparing for my first defense against Hurricane Jackson, I worked on stamina because Jackson had limitless stamina. For Pete Rademacher, the amateur who knocked me down, I worked on my accounts. I got $250,000 to fight him, but I had no respect for him. I left myself open for a punch. I was mentally lazy because I thought it was merely a matter of time before I would take him, because he was an amateur. He'd never before fought more than three rounds in any fight.
When I went into training to fight Roy Harris, I had laid off for so long that I had to concentrate on just learning how to fight again. Everything was off for that fight. I had no reflexes. My legs were running into each other and I was stepping on my own toes. People who saw the fight say he knocked me down. That's contributed to my reputation as a "china chin." Harris didn't knock me down. I was off-balance and tripped just as he threw a punch.
My next fight was against Brian London, but I was looking ahead to the one with Ingemar. I trained for condition and speed, but it was more a matter of sharpening myself up for Johansson. In the beginning of my training I concentrated on keeping away from Ingemar's right hand. But as time went on and reporters wrote that Johansson never threw the right in his sparring sessions at Grossinger's, I allowed myself to be taken in. I decided before the fight that he had no right hand because if you've got one you throw it even in training. In the first and second rounds of the actual fight he threw a right a couple of times, but it seemed sloppy. I saw it before he started it. I stopped looking for it. The next thing you know I didn't see it at all when I caught it right on the face.
For our return bout, therefore, I concentrated on keeping away from the right hand, or, at least, nullifying it by out-jabbing him. We figured if I kept him busy getting out of the way of my jab, he wouldn't be able to throw his right hand. That's the way it worked out.
Johansson's surprise move
For the third fight with Ingemar I trained at Miami Beach and couldn't concentrate on anything. I was too busy with other things and paid the price for it when Ingemar came out with a rush and knocked me down. He surprised me. After two fights I thought I knew him. After having been knocked out by me, I didn't anticipate he would come at me winging.
For McNeeley J. went back to training in seclusion. I wanted no distractions because by then I was looking ahead to Liston. Concentration is so important when you're training for an opponent who can give you a hard time, and for Sonny I determined I would be in the best condition of my life. That's what I will be when I come into the ring. I will have trained for almost eight months. I have trained harder, been more alone for intensive concentration, rested more and eaten more sensibly than at any time. The fight could be a bloody one—a toe-to-toe thing—and I've worked for stamina.
When I was at my camp in Highland Mills, N.Y. last month, before moving to Elgin, Ill., nearer to the fight site, I would climb the foothills of the Catskills over the mountain to Newburgh, N.Y. regularly. I don't know how many miles it is, but it took 3� hours to make it one way and then I'd turn around and come back the other.
That was for strengthening my legs. I chopped trees to strengthen my arms and my back and boxed to sharpen my reflexes and worked on my jab. The doctors told me that I should eat liver and fish, which I hate, but they said it builds you up and so I ate it three times a week. I ate more fresh fruit than ever before. I did those neck exercises Johnson suggested and had my trainers pound my middle with the heavy medicine ball harder than they thought they should. If that gave me pains in the stomach early in my training, it was better having them then than when Liston tries to bomb me. It's better than having butterflies in your stomach going into a fight you think you could lose. This way you don't think it.
As I've said, I've had nothing on my mind for a year except Liston during my waking hours. I might add that during my sleeping ones a few weeks ago I had a dream about him, too. I guess it's because the fight is getting closer now and there's no way, really, to push it out of my mind.