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Clay Intercepts Liston at Miami Airport

Jan. 26, 1964 - Sonny Liston jetted into Miami today for his Feb. 25 heavyweight title defense against Cassius Clay, and the publicity-mad Cassius turned the champ’s arrival at Miami International Airport into a circus. Clay had been waiting and sounding off for almost 30 minutes before Sonny came off the plane. By then, Cassius had his tuxedo coat off and, with hangers-on hanging on to his arms (with firm instructions not to let go), he was yelling: “I’m the champ! You’re the chump! Let’s fight right now. I want my title!” Liston didn’t even give Cassius the satisfaction of a glance in his direction.

To get to a VIP room for an interview, Liston had to be hustled through a ground-level door. Once he was through it, Jack Nilon, his adviser, grabbed a police sergeant and yelled “Don’t let Clay in” as they tried to block the door. Geraldine Liston, already out of breath trying to keep up, was caught in the middle as the shoving began, with Clay waving a cane he was carrying and screaming: “It’s a free country! You can’t stop me from coming in.” While the slight Nilon threatened to fight Clay’s entire entourage, trainer Willie Reddish pulled Mrs. Liston to safety. “Thanks,” she said. “I got bopped in the head by that cane.”

Liston had to be restrained at the door of the VIP room as he growled, “Let him in. I’ll take care of that loudmouth right now.” Liston then sat glaring at the door for 10 minutes as Clay banged it with his walking stick and shouted, “Let me at that chump!” Nilon was chalk-white and trembling with rage as he told a police sergeant, “I want that bum locked up. I’ll press charges for disturbing the peace.” Promoter Bill MacDonald tried to apologize to Liston. “I hope you don’t think I had anything to do with this. Fun is fun. But that Clay is nuts. Do me a favor and knock him out in three rounds.” Said Liston softly: “It’ll be within five. He might run for a few minutes, but I’ll get him.”

Asked if Clay’s actions today had upset him, Sonny said, “No. But it got kind of — you know, even iron wears out. You can get enough of anything. I don’t think he’s a good challenger, and I don’t have any respect for him. I don’t like his talking about my personal life. He should mind his own business.”

Clay appeared at a Black Muslim rally in New York Tuesday night and blasted Liston “for training among white people in Las Vegas.”


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