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Clay Spars, Liston Gives Press Conference

Feb. 20, 1964 - Today was D-Day minus five for the Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay heavyweight championship fight, and it produced a couple of minor surprises not engineered by the publicity armies that saturate the battle area. The first surprise consisted of some unexpectedly solid blows landed on the head, chin, and body of young Cassius by Cody Jones, a 210-pound sparring partner.

Practice-round events may not prove much, but these flurries drew gasps of amazement from 150 onlookers and a trite but not comforting comment from Angelo Dundee, Clay’s trainer. “When you go swimming, you’re gonna get wet,” said Dundee. The trouble with the metaphor is that it suggests that on Tuesday night, when the fight takes place in Convention Hall in Miami Beach, Cassius may drown.

The other surprise was the quality of some of Liston’s observations at his daily post-workout press conference. Clay is supposed to be the clever one, but Sonny, in unrehearsed give and take, made some prose comments that were more pointed than Clay’s prefabricated poetry.

Liston was asked about Denver, his present home. “It’s second only to heaven,” he said.

What about his previous home, Philadelphia? “I’d rather be a lamp post in Denver than the mayor of Philadelphia.”

Clay, in Sonny’s opinion, ranks right down there with Philadelphia. What about Clay’s speed? “What speed?” asked Liston. “How fast is he? That fellow in England — what’s his name, Cooper? He’s as slow as Christmas, and he caught Clay and knocked him down.” On this subject, Liston was just warming up. “I know what speed you’re talking about — he talks fast,” Sonny went on. “His only speed is in his mouth. How fast is he? Can he catch a bullet?”

Did he consider Clay a tougher opponent than Floyd Patterson? “Do you?” Liston shot back. “Yes,” was the answer. “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion,” said Liston, “but would you bet on it? A man can back away from you, but Clay better not turn his back on me.”

“He couldn’t be much worse than Patterson, could he?” someone asked. “At least Patterson tried to fight back,” said Liston. “Will Clay? If he does, he might go quicker than Patterson.” All this contempt for Clay was more impressive because it was uttered in such a low-key, matter-of-fact, almost friendly fashion.


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