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TNT Broadcasts Clay-Liston Verbal Sparring Session

Feb. 13, 1964 - Cassius Clay (“I’m the greatest thing in all history”) and Sonny Liston (“I imagine he’ll be talking as he’s going down”) sparred verbally today over closed-circuit television. Clay was faster, but Liston threw the harder punches. “If you whip me,” Clay said to Liston, “I’ll crawl across the ring and kiss your feet.” Said Liston to Clay, “I ain’t gonna wait around all night until you’re able to crawl.”

The exchange took place during a news conference arranged by Theatre Network Television, the company that will produce the closed-circuit T.V. showing of the Clay-Liston heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach Feb. 25. Liston and Clay were speaking from their Florida training sites. They were able to see each other via T.V. monitors but not the newsmen questioning them from TNT’s technical center in Woodside, Queens. TNT’s Eidophor projector cast an image of motion-picture clarity for the conference, the first of its kind in sports.

Clay, sitting in the middle of the ring in Miami’s Fifth Street Gym and drinking a container of orange juice, did not wait to be questioned. “You just saw that big bear. Is he as rangy and pretty and fast as me?” he asked.

A reporter suggested that Clay ran off at the mouth because his confidence was shaky. “Shaky? I’m getting wilder every day,” he said. “I can knock a man out backing up. I’m gonna upset the whole world.” The 22-year-old challenger with the mouth of a river flowed on:

— About Liston (“He talks too much — I don’t like people who talk too much”).

— About his status as underdog (“At these odds, I’m a poor man’s dream.”)

— About the Liston-Floyd Patterson fights (“They were rabbit hunts.”)

— About his strategy for the fight (“To hit and not be hit.”)

Then the cameras turned to Liston, whose eyes sparkle with humor although his expression is set. “You know, when you have kids and they don’t mind you, you have to put them in their place,” he said. “He has to keep talking. But what’ll happen to him when all those people with him leave him and he has to come to me?”

When he was asked if he expected Clay to slug or run away, he said, “I expect him to jump out of the ring.”

When asked how his supposedly ailing knee was, he said, “I went to a witch doctor who told me to let nature take its course.”

After a while, Clay and Liston began to converse. “People love you, Charles,” said Clay, using Liston’s given name. “I make you great. The fans love you because I’m the villain.” Liston smiled. “I appreciate what you’re doing for me,” he said.

During the kissing-feet exchange, Liston said he would kiss Clay’s feet if the challenger lasted three rounds. “I trapped you,” crowed Clay. “No, I trapped you,” Liston responded. “Got you to sign a contract to fight me.” Liston did say, however, that he would not damage Clay’s pretty face.

Joe Louis, in Sonny’s camp, outlined Clay’s only two strategic possibilities as follows: “One, he should stay away from Liston. Second best, he should stay away as long as possible.”


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