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Challenger Cassius Clay Confident on Liston Fight

Feb. 6, 1964 - No. 1 heavyweight challenger Cassius Clay expressed confidence today in his ability to take the boxing title away from champion Sonny Liston. In his modest Northwest Miami home nestled among the pink and black Cadillacs and the big gaudy bus proclaiming “The World’s Most Colorful Fighter,” the 22-year-old fighter was in the kind of serious, thoughtful mood the public rarely sees. He had just heard a reporter express the view that his clowning act, which had pumped new life into a tired fight racket, now was turning sour. His challenge of the formidable Liston was not being taken seriously.

“I don’t worry about how the people feel,” he said. “Sure, I know they keep coming out to see some fighter button the Louisville Lip. I made Liston the favorite of the fans. He used to be the villain — a mean ex-convict — and people wanted to see him beat. Then I came along, and they got an earful of me, and they began rooting for Liston to shut me up. I’ll be fighting him and the fans too. I talk and holler. I made a lot of big money fights that way. I made this one the biggest in history. There are 16,000 seats in the Convention Hall at Miami Beach, and they cost an average of $76 apiece, and they’ll all be sold. With the theater television, this will be a $7 million fight. I built that with my big mouth. I should shut up? The trouble with people is they listen to me jabber and they don’t judge me on experience and boxing ability.”

Publicly, Clay — who has had only 19 pro fights but has won them all, 15 by knockout — has predicted that he will stop Liston — who has won 35 of 36 fights, 25 by knockout — in five rounds. But today, he admitted that Liston is the stronger fighter, “is pretty fast,” is better developed in pro fighting, and “might not fall.” But he also revealed that he has grown to Liston’s size at 220 pounds and believes that he has the ring moves to overcome the champion’s edge in brute force.

“What the fans overlook,” Clay said, “is that I had 186 amateur fights. I’m young and I’m still growing, but I’ve been through the mill. I had my first fight when I was 12, and ever since I’ve been aiming for February 25, when I’ll win the heavyweight championship. When I was 14, I was beating full-grown fighters. I was popping off even then, telling everybody I would be the champ. Before I was 18, I had 100 fights. I won the AAU light heavyweight title, the Golden Gloves heavyweight crown, and the Olympic heavyweight championship when I was 19. People forget that. When I fought Archie Moore, they said he had too much experience and too much punch for me. I said I’d stop him in four, and nobody believed me. When it happened, people said, ‘Well, Archie is getting old. Anybody could whip him.’ It’s been the same after all my fights.”

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