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Clay Sets Sights on Liston, Calls Champ “Ugly Bear”

June 18, 1963 - Cassius Clay wearily reclined on a rubbing table at Wembley Stadium after his fifth round TKO victory over Britain’s Henry Cooper tonight and said, “Now for that ugly bear Liston — and he’ll fall in eight. I am challenging that tramp, I’ll prove that I am the champ,” Clay told world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston’s adviser Jack Nilon, “I’m ready for Liston, but only if the price is right. I will draw the crowd, not him.” Nilon assured Clay, who had predicted a fifth-round win over Cooper, that the price would be right. He said: “I’ve come 3,500 miles to get you, the price will be right. You can have the fight in September.” Told later that Nilon wanted the Clay-Liston bout in Philadelphia in September, Cassius replied: “That’s all right with me. His hometown will witness the annihilation.” Asked why he’s in such a hurry to meet the champ, Clay said: “I want to be the youngest heavyweight champion. I want to break [Floyd] Patterson’s record.” To duplicate Floyd’s feat over Archie Moore in November 1956, the 21-year-old Clay would have to meet and beat Liston before mid-December. “Don’t worry, I’ll break the record,” he said. Of Cooper, Clay said, “Don’t take anything away from him. He’s the strongest fighter I’ve ever met and certainly the hardest puncher I’ve ever come up against. Man, how he hits, especially that left hook.” Clay, however, protested that referee Tommy Little was the worst he had ever seen. “He allowed Cooper to hit me on the break, and when I protested, he told me to get on with the fight. The British system is okay, but not the referee.”


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