By John Christenson.
The following was taken from a 1962 interview with 7th ranked Heavyweight contender, Cassius Clay. The Olympic Gold Medalist was 13-0. At 6’ 3”, the young Clay weighed under 200 pounds, a Cuiserweight by today’s standards. Although not all of the questions and answers of this interview were found intact, it still provides an entertaining profile of one of the most prolific Heavyweight Champions in the history of the sport.
It was the spring of 1962. Floyd Patterson was the Heavyweight Champion of the World and would go on to face Sonny Liston in September of that same year. Two years later, Clay would face Liston for the first time.
Question: Cassius, so that we can start this interview off correctly and just in case one or two of our listeners haven’t already heard, would you mind naming the best heavyweight fighter in the world today?
Answer: Not at all. Cassius Clay!
Q: Are you aware that many people would like nothing better than to see you get a good beating?
A: Maybe so, but that don’t bother me at all. The way I figure it, they’ll keep on paying to see me fight. I don’t care if they’re for me or against me. Just so long as they keep coming. And by the way, can you or anybody else name that guy who’s gonna give me that beating?
Q: Let’s not get involved in that right now. Your trainer, Angelo Dundee, tells me that you are an amazing judge of fighters. He said you can watch a future opponent box a round or two and know exactly how to beat him when you get him into the ring. The only other men who could do that successfully, to my knowledge, were two of the greatest lightweights who ever lived, Joe Gans and Benny Leonard. How do you go about sizing up an opponent.
A: I read that Gans could do it. But I didn’t know about Leonard. How do I do it? Well, I watch the way a man holds his hands. How he moves his feet. But the real trick is to spot the way he puts his punches together. For example: A guy throws a jab. What does he throw next? A hook? Another jab? An uppercut? You ask what difference does it make? I’ll tell you. All people have habits. They keep doing the same things over and over again. Now I figure those things out in advance, so when I get a guy in the ring I got a great big edge going for me because I know what he’s going to do. I won a lot of my fights because I had it all figured out in advance.
Q: Was there every anybody who fooled you by making moves you didn’t expect?
A: No. Not that I can remember. They all did just what I expected they would do
Q: Who hit you the hardest?
A: Lamar Clark. I knocked him out in two rounds, but before I got to him he hit me with a right on the chest and I thought my ribs caved in. I can still feel it.
Q: Cassius, they say you have an amazing record for correctly picking the rounds in which you stopped your opponents. Tell us about it.
A: Yes, that’s true. Like I said, I can figure guys out, and I play this little game with Angelo Dundee before every fight. The one who comes closest to picking the round gets a new tie or a new hat from the other. To give you an idea of how it stands today, I scored 10 knockouts so far and I got seven hats and three ties that I didn’t pay for!
Q: Can you give me a few examples? Which of the fights did you pick exactly?
A: Willi Besmanoff in seven, George Logan in four, Sonny Banks in four, Don Warner in four, Alex Miteff in six. I was a little off on Lamar Clark. I gave him three rounds, but I got him in two. I don’t mind being wrong that way.
Q: Cassius, fellows usually become fighters for two reasons: The money and the glory. What about you?
A: The money comes with the glory. I’m going to be the youngest heavyweight champion in history. And I’m going to hold that title for a long, long time. When I’m finished fighting, I’m going to be a millionaire.
Q: Suppose you get licked before you make it big?
A: Well, I’ve told this to my close friends and I’ll make it public now for the first time. When I get licked, I will kiss the feet of the man who beat me, unashamed. Then I will catch the next jet for Rome.
Q: Why Rome? Why not Louisville?
A: Rome is my favorite city. I won the Olympics there, you know. Besides, if I got beat, I’d want to get away from my friends, I couldn’t face them. But say, stop talking about me getting beat. That’s not gonna happen. Not for a long time, anyway.
Q: Cassius, what’s your best punch?
A: Three jabs off the hook!
Q: You must be kidding?
A: Not at all. I throw them in bunches.
Q: You once sparred with Ingemar Johansson. Tell me, how do you think you’d do against Ingo in a real fight, say next month?
A: I’d knock him out in four rounds. It would be an easy fight for me because he has the kind of style I like. Remember, Johansson is shorter than me. Therefore, I’d be punching down, and not up. And the man who’s punching down always has the advantage.
Q: Who do you like in the Liston-Patterson fight?
A: I go along with Patterson. Maybe I say that because that’s the way I want it to go. You see, if Liston wins, there will be a return bout and I’d have to wait for my shot. I’d be wasting about a year. Now if Patterson wins, I could fight him next winter. And after I knock him out, I’ll take on Liston.
Q: They say you don’t like to fly, and that you usually do your traveling by train. Isn’t that hard on you?
A: It would be a lot harder on me if I was up in one of those jets and the engines decided to quit!
Q: Cassius, I’m sure that if the average boxing fan could ask you one question, he’d want to know why you talk and brag so much. How about answering your public right here.
A: Sure, why not. Let’s face it. If I were like other fighters, the strong silent type who lets his manager do the talking, how many people do you figure would have ever have heard the name of Cassius Clay? Not many, I can tell you. But because I speak my mind, everybody knows my name. I walk down the street in Los Angeles and people point at me and say, “There goes that kid Clay, the fighter with the big mouth.” It’s the same way in Miami, Chicago and New York. People know me because I liven up the fight game. And it’s paying off not only for me, but for the whole business.
Q: Cassius, hard-hitting heavyweight contender Cleveland Williams, who most experts rate ahead of you, has said some unkind things about you. He has said, “Clay is a real good prospect with a real big mouth. In a couple of years he should be something. I hope I got a title when he gets his shot. I don’t like guys who go shooting off their mouths.”
A: Who is this Cleveland Williams?! What he ever do except get himself knocked out by Sonny Liston? Twice! There’s a man who don’t learn from experience. There’s a man I want to fight!
Q: Did you ever see Williams fight?
A: I can’t recall, so he can’t be much. [At this point, Clay turned to Angelo Dundee]. Angelo, get me a fight with this guy Williams. I want to show him what big mouths can do with their fists. I don’t wanna wait till, like he says, ‘I win the title.’
Q: Cassius, you look like you’re real mad. And you know a good fighter should never lose his head.
A: Now don’t you go worryin’ yourself about Cassius Clay. I ain’t about to lose my head, but this guy Cleveland Williams is gonna lose his. You know what they say about me, don’t you? When Clay hits ‘em, they must fall!
The Boxing Magazine – December 2009