From the archive: ‘Why I’m unbeatable’ by Cassius Clay
Editor’s note: Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) wrote the following column for the February 1963 issue of THE RING Magazine. He was 20 at the time he wrote this and still more than a year away from fighting Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. It is being represented to coincide with the first anniversary of Ali’s passing.
I like to fool around. I like to josh and needle, play practical jokes. But underneath all of that lies a really serious vein.
When I tell you that I am going to be the heavyweight champion of the world I am not joking.
I have confidence, and behind it, the ambition, punch and skill with which to make my prediction come true.
Meanwhile a lot of fight people who have been hiding in the woodwork have come out to grab whatever publicity they can get out of whatever association with me they can set up in the newspapers.
There is Eddie Machen, for one. He invites me to take him on and name the round.
Then there is Cleveland Williams, another Liston victim, whose manager says he will pay me $1,000 for every round I could stay with this man. He couldn’t come out for the second.
Let a fighter achieve a certain amount of position and those who have been around for years making futile motions dash out to steal pieces of the limelight.
Billy Daniels also has had something to say, and I have told my manager, Bill Faversham, to let me take care of Williams and Daniels in one night. This also is not comedy.
Bill tells me that between now and September I will have three more fights. He says he is confident that with this extra preparation I could take Liston. I have the greatest respect for Faversham’s opinions and in his ability to make them stand up.
CLAY CALLS HIMSELF ONLY LISTON OPPONENT
There is a lot of conversation about me and Liston. No wonder. Who else stands out for a serious shot at Sonny?
After Liston’s case of homicide against Patterson, I felt I could demolish Floyd even faster than Sonny did the job, and he was timed in 2 minutes 6 seconds.
Patterson looked terrible. He gave the impression that he had died in training camp and had had no sleep for many nights. Floyd appeared to be suffering from paralysis. He played right into Liston’s hands.
Where was Patterson’s speed? Where were his plans of attack and defense? Where was his experience? He made Sonny look like the greatest fighter in the history of the ring. Now the reporters write about Liston as the Monster, the Great Unbeatable. That’s plain junk.
I know how to beat the slow moving flatfooted Liston. I am convinced that a fighter with speed, with a punch and guts, and the knowledge how to use both of these assets, can beat Liston.
I would make Liston think he was fighting ten guys. I would have him so dizzy he would think he was on a carousel.
Anyone who says I could not handle Liston is not with it. I would jab and hook him silly and move around him.
Angelo Dundee, my trainer, keeps telling me to curb my tongue. He is a quiet man by nature and anybody who talks up, with confidence, impresses him as a kook.
Well, I say only what I believe. You will note that so far I have made good on my predictions. Like stopping Archie Moore in four heats. I called the round. I will call it in a Liston fight.
I don’t dig all this talk about me being brash. When I make a prediction I am not looking in a crystal ball. I am analyzing things rationally.
Some of my critics faulted me for saying I would take Donnie Fleeman in four and it took me seven. Well, that was a plain case of miscalculation. I set a fast pace and wear them down before I begin setting myself for my punches.
Donnie didn’t wear out as fast as I figured he would.
“WHO LISTENS TO A WHISPER?” CLAY ASKS
Angelo and I always set up a plan for a fight, and so far we have done pretty well.
Some people figure I am too loud. Well, I may be that. But who listens to a whisper? Boxing is badly in need of colorful fighters who can back up their mouths with their fists.
This type of fighter used to be a tremendous force in the old ballyhoo. The promoters seem to have lost the ballyhoo knack. I want to revive it – of course, with the ability to make my claims and predictions to stand up.
I want to ask some of the few boxing writers who have been a little harsh toward me – which do they prefer, the drab or the interesting?
I figure that I am a Man of Destiny. I felt that way when I won the Olympic light heavyweight title in 1960, and I have that feeling now more than ever. I believe that I am invincible. Yes, I feel that way. On the level.
Only once in the boxing experience have I been low. That was in the first round against Sonny Banks. Things failed to go right. I said, “Now, Cassius, don’t panic. Be calm. Just keep fighting like you were. Things happen.”
That was a very important fight for me. For one thing, I found out I could take a punch and come back strong.
After I got up, I moved fast, stuck him with my left and after a while annihilated him.
Now don’t expect me to be able to spell that word “annihilate.” I am not trying to win a spelling contest. If anybody ever annihilated me I would kiss his feet and tell the world that he was the greatest. However, the way I size myself up, nobody is going to annihilate me.
Honest, man, I ain’t a fool. If I ever did get annihilated I would have to leave the good old USA. But the main idea is to keep people interested in Cassius Clay.
YOU’VE GOT TO BE FIRST, CASSIUS INSISTS
Fighting is a tough business. The field is restricted. To be second, third, fourth, in a division is no good. To tin can around the country just for paydays and muffins is not my idea of living.
If you are a fighter or a carpenter, be the best fighter or carpenter. Don’t accept anything less and don’t expect the public to take less from you.
Recently, a stranger walked up to me and said, “Are you Cassius Clay, the fighter?” I assured him I was Cassius.
He said, “You talk too much. What you need is a good beating.”
I said, “Mister, you go to my next fight and pray that the other guy gives me that beating.”
I am amused by Liston’ s remarks concerning my statements that I would beat him. One paper reported that he said, “Someday some guy will kill that gas bag.” Was he referring to me as a gas bag? Who was the real gas bag in that situation?
Now, that guy Johansson. Somebody asks him if he would like to fight me and he says he would not embarrass himself fighting a loudmouth like me. He added that it would take him one round to handle me.
Johansson need not be embarrassed. If I fought him he would on the floor in the first round.
I am told that I should develop my modesty. Why? What good can modesty do me? How much can I sell modesty for? How is it sold? By the quart or the pound?
There is too much modesty in the fight game. If people come to see me just to laugh if I should hit the deck – well they come to see me. They are interested. They don’t show up if they don’t give a damn about Cassius Clay.
I want to say this, and make it strong. I have heard the modest fighters booed.
WHY DO SO MANY GOOD ONES SNUB CLAY?
There is too much of that modesty and loudmouth talk. It hides the real issue. Am I a fighter with a future? Or am I a mere braggart who cannot back up his interviews?
Do the writers interview me and write columns and columns about me because they don’t believe in me? Bunk, plain bunk. They know that Cassius Clay, of Louisville, Olympic champion, is headed for the top and they don’t want to get lost in the shuffle.
If I am just talk, why do so many good fighters refuse to meet me?
If I am nothing why does Johansson refuse $100,000 to fight me?
If I am nothing, why does Patterson ignore me? He is a much over-rated fighter. If he fought me he never would get into a second fight with Liston.
Liston? A hard puncher. They say, “Cassius, you stay away from Liston for a couple of years and then he and you both will be ripe for the fight, with you having a good chance.”
That is great stand-around thinking. You don’t win titles that way and you don’t make money, either.
I am moving toward my twenty-first birthday. I fight at 200 pounds. I am fast and capable. One thing, nobody had the guts to call me a clown fighter like Hurricane Jackson was.
I have a good left jab. It is going to get better. I have stamina. I have a left hook. I can scissor that right hand of mine.
The critics say, “Cassius, you stand up straight too much. You back into the ropes too much.”
And I say, “If I do those things, they have a purpose, and I always want to be myself, not a copy, not somebody’s second duplicate. You have to realize that my speed enables me to overcome certain things which you may call faults.
OLDER EXPERTS SEE ANOTHER BILLY CONN
Some of the fight writers tell me that in form I resemble Billy Conn, and they add that if he had had my weight he would have beaten Joe Louis.
I fool people about my weight. They figure I come in at 175-180. But I am solidly built and with that, I remind you again, fast on my feet.
Conn, they say, also had a certain amount of brashness about him. He wasn’t afraid to speak out.
They tell me, “Boxing never before had a guy like you. Either you have a lot of stuff with which to back this up or you are foolhardy.”
I assure the writers and the fans – and the editors of The Ring Magazine – that if there is one thing I am not, it is foolhardy.
I like to read the things writers say about me. They sometimes have me boasting that I am as great a fighter as I will ever be, or hope to be.
That is not the truth. I am only two years away from the Olympics. But if, in this short time, I have made the progress which all the experts admit I have made, is it foolhardy of me to believe that I will be greater in still another year?
Do they take me for a dummy? Do they believe that I learn nothing from every start in the ring?
It is hard to impress on some of the experts the fact that instead of being on the skids, as so many of them say, boxing is very much on the rise.
I am only 21. But it seems to me that we have more great fighters than ever before, and it also strikes me that not all of the superlatives of the ring came in the long ago.
STRATEGY AGAINST SONNY, ONE SUBJECT BARRED
This boy Tiger is a great fighter and so is Griffith. From the lower classifications right up to Cassius Clay, the ring is loaded with class. Time and boxing refuse to stand still.
Concerning a Liston fight, some of the sports writers ask me, “How do you figure to fight this man? The real inside story, not merely stuff about speed and moving around.”
Angelo and I have talked about this a lot. But this is one thing I don’t care to discuss at this time.
Let me tip you to one thing. Sonny Liston’s age. He says he is 28. Even if you accept that figure – and I don’t – he is seven years older than me.
In another year he still will be seven years older and at his count, 29. Two years from now I still will have seven years, at least, on him and he will be at least 30.
I don’t want to spill everything in this story. I have been told that I will get a chance to do another article in six or seven months. Let’s see what new material I will have.
One thing I would like to do. I would like to write about the boyhood of Cassius Clay, about his family, about his hopes and ambitions. That material would come in handy when it came time to write the full story of Cassius Clay, World Champion.
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