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I'LL PROVE THE EXPERTS WRONG AGAIN'
A few weeks ago when I started to train intensively for the September 25 defense of my world heavyweight title against Sonny Liston, I hired Young Jack Johnson as one of my sparring partners. He had been a sparring partner for Liston for about a year and a half and so he knew something about Sonny's style. Johnson weighs 230 pounds and that gave me the opportunity to box against a big man like Liston, who'll come in against me at Comiskey Park, Chicago at about 212 to 215.
After a few days Johnson suggested that I ought to be doing some exercises to strengthen my neck. He demonstrated the exercise he had in mind. You get on your back and then make a kind of bridge of your body so that your feet and head on the mat support your body, with most of your weight pushed toward your head. Then you start swiveling your head. It's supposed to strengthen your neck muscles.
I never asked Johnson if he thought I couldn't take Liston's punch. I just had to assume that because Sonny is supposed to have knockout power and because other fighters have knocked me down and one knocked me out, Johnson figured I'd better strengthen my neck to offset what a lot of people seem to think is my weak chin.
The odds have been against me since this fight was signed, and from what I've read in the press a lot of the reporters believe Sonny will be too much for me. Liston himself has been making a lot of statements about how this fight won't go five rounds and when he hits me I'll stay down. Good. That's the way a challenger should feel when he's trying to win the title. But talking a fight and fighting one are two different things. A fighter should have a little bit of doubt in him. I've wondered more than once during these past few weeks whether Sonny is popping off in order to scare me—or to reassure himself.
I am the champion. I don't hold that lightly, just as I don't hold any opponent lightly any more after what happened to me in the first of my three fights with Ingemar Johansson, when he knocked me down seven times and won my title because I didn't give him enough respect. If a champion doesn't respect a challenger, just think how much worse it can be if the challenger holds the champion in contempt.
This isn't meant as advice to Sonny—what he should say, how he should think or how he should fight—but a champion should be respected. If a man does so much talking outside the ring, he may not do so much fighting in it. I intend to fight the kind of fight that will make Sonny respect me when it's just the two of us and the referee under those lights.
This fight should end in a knockout. I've never predicted how a fight I'm going into will come out. I don't intend to start now, but I hope to be the winner. I know Liston can hit hard. However, I not only believe I can take Liston's punch, if he lands it, but I think I can hit harder than he can. He will have to prove to me that I'm wrong and that's the real significance of this eighth defense of my title, as I see it. The bull—Liston—does not have to destroy the china shop or shatter the "china chin."
I'll come in at about 192 and be a lot lighter than Liston. Presumably he's stronger as well as bigger and a lot of people think he's tougher, but I hope to be faster and a better boxer. That doesn't mean much in the minds of those who have never thought much of me as a champion, but in my own mind I'm determined to prove how wrong the so-called experts can be again.
They said I'd be glove-shy when I fought Johansson the second time, after he kayoed me. That was the most important bout of my career because I had to score a victory over myself then before I could score one over Ingemar and the press. If I should happen to be successful against Liston, will the recognition I never received before come to me at last? I doubt it. I still probably won't be recognized as a great champion or even an outstandingly good one. The reporters will find some reason to diminish the value of the victory. Believe it or not, I won't mind. I'm convinced that I will never be recognized without qualification. I'm satisfied with the recognition I have now. I was the youngest ever to win the title and the only man ever to regain it. If I win this time I will prove to myself that I'm a better champion than even I gave myself credit for being. That's the important thing.