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Clay and Liston Sign for Title Fight at Hilarious Press Conference

Nov. 5, 1963 - In Denver today, heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and challenger Cassius Clay signed at a packed, hilarious news conference for a 15-round title fight next year. No date or site was set, but handlers said it would be in February. There was a delay in the signing when Clay at first refused to sit at the same table as the champion. He said: “I don’t want to sit by him.” Later he sat at the table with Jack Nilon, the champion’s adviser, between the two fighters. Cassius was in characteristic form. He continually interrupted the proceeding and traded barbs with newsmen, recited poetry in which he predicted he would send Liston “into orbit,” and stood up after the signing and said: “This is my dream. Let the annihilation begin.” Liston presented Clay with an oversized picture of himself inscribed: “Well, Cassius — now that we have signed, I don’t want nothing to happen to you. I am sending my picture along to guard you.” Liston also held up a pair of large, mink-covered boxing gloves and told Clay he was going to use them on him “so I won’t hurt your pretty face.” Clay retorted: “I tell this to you television cameramen, I tell this to you radio men, I tell this to all you in all the world — if Sonny Liston knocks me out, I will kiss his feet in the ring. I will crawl across the ring and kiss his feet and say he’s the greatest. Then I’ll take the next jet out of the country.” The afternoon conference came after police dogs routed Clay from in front of Liston’s home early this morning. Clay was driven in his private bus to the street in front of the champion’s home. He shouted at Liston and honked the horn of the bus, which was decorated with such slogans as “Sonny Liston will go in eight.” In the doorway of his home, Liston watched without any show of emotion. When Clay stepped up on the lawn and yelled at Liston, the champion shouted back and waved a gold-headed cane he carried. A big police dog was within inches of Clay as the No. 1 contender was told to “move on right away or be taken in.” Clay left promptly. Clay hasn’t been defeated since turning pro after he won the light-heavyweight crown in the 1960 Olympics. He has posted 19 victories, including 15 knockouts. Liston scored his 28th straight victory and his 35th in 36 starts when he beat Floyd Patterson in July for the second time.

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