Alex Mit-teff vs. Cassius Clay," announced Cassius Clay, child of scorn, and took a stance reminiscent of Frank Sinatra defending himself against a photographer. "Biff, biff, bam, biff, biff!" he said, intently punching the air, then flopped on his bed, eyes preposterously rolling. "Clay is down," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, what is the matter?" Then, imploringly, "Clay, Clay!" He lay still. Presently he sat up and put out his hand, silencing a vast, murmurous and imaginary crowd.
"Quiet, everybody," said his trainer, Angelo Dundee. "Cautious is going to make a speech."
"Mit-teff must fall!" Cassius said, a dark Isaiah, and doubled up laughing. He picked up the phone and called his brother Rudy. "Hello," he said, "Cassius Clay in? No? Well, you tell him: he must throw the fight." He hung up. "Did you ever meet anyone like me? All Dundee's fighters are sad. I'm the onliest one that cheers him up."
"There's only one Cassius Clay," said Dundee. "Thank God."
October 15, 1961
Thus, in his Louisville hotel room last week, the day before he knocked out Alex Miteff, Cassius Clay, 19, undefeated in eight professional heavyweight fights, noisily hammered his armor.
"I am not talking this fight," he said severely. "No comment. I'm mature. I'm growing a mustache, I shaved yesterday for the first time in my life. Things are getting so rough for me around here I'm losing all my girl friends. I don't feel like talking. I don't feel rowdy. But the trouble is boxing's dying because everybody's so quiet. Patterson's quiet. Harold Johnson's quiet. What boxing needs is more Moores and Robinsons and Clays. I'm an unpredictable young man with a raggedy pink Cadillac. This is my town. When you walk down the street with old Cass you're liable to get a free bottle of champagne. Where do I find all the things I say? I'm an educated boy. I sit down and think them up.
"No comment," said Cassius. "I'm not talking this fight because I don't have to. Everyone knows Mit-teff. His greatest element will be the element of surprise; my surprise. I expect Mit-teff to be strong, to hit hard, but hitting hard don't mean a thing if you can't find nothing to hit. Mit-teff has a big head. I'll find it. Did I ever show you my scrapbook? I carry it with me."
Two floors above the onliest fighter, Alex Miteff brooded on a bed in his dim hotel room: his scrapbook is his worn and moody face. Once, too, like all of us, Alex had been young and undefeated. Now he is 26. "All my life was very tough," he said, with a little smile. "When I was 7 years old I worked in Buenos Aires for a year making 25¢ a month cleaning out market. I never remember in my life I wear short pants. When I was 14 I make shoes, have my own store. At 14 I am foreman over 50 guys in a place where you make the fantasy with wood. Then I box, and Perón get me job in post office, supreme court, and I don't do nothing. When amateur, so friendly with Peron. He was so big he made me feel so big. I go to New York. I won 12 straight fights as professional. I figure I will be champion in 15th fight. But I have the bad luck. All time I dream some day I will be champion. My manager said he is my father but a father that robs me I don't want. He cut me 50-50. Even after he is not my manager he cut me 50-50 for 2½ years. What do I know? I can't even say good morning in English. He rob me. We Argentines, we don't mind being robbed, but we like you tell us that you are robbing us.
"Then I lose and he don't care about my career. He care about money. He get all the time tough fights; they go with the money. Six years, I don't try. I don't train right, I don't do nothing. Now it's different. I have new managers. Gil Clancy and Howard Albert. It's like old times in Argentina. I want to prove myself. Money comes second. I feel all the time in better shape I am in now I can beat them easy. I feel like a millionaire even though I got no money. If I only get a little luck."
But luck, unfortunately, no more decides prizefights than it does the destiny of nations or dice games. Miteff lost $7 the day before the fight, shooting craps against a bathroom door. When you look for luck you have already joined the great, intolerable march of losers. Of course, it was not inevitable that Miteff would fall, although it was a gloomy symbol that he wore a pair of trunks he borrowed from Clay. He is a very strong, willful and resourceful fighter, if deficient defensively. In the first few rounds with Clay, however, he showed considerable, though sporadic, improvement on defense, shielding his face with his arms and bobbing and weaving with success. But Clay's hands are so fast and well aimed that it is impossible, ultimately, to avoid them.
In the first round, Clay tried for a knockout. He had been distressed at the criticism he had received in his first TV fight last July with Alonzo Johnson and was determined to show improvement. "They said I did too much hopping around for a heavyweight," Clay said. It was Trainer Dundee's plan—and Clay's surprise—that Cassius try to knock Alex out in the first round. To that end, Cassius came down off his toes and relentlessly hit Miteff's face with multiple combinations, at times without dispute. But Miteff seemed to withstand these blows well and lunged forward with infrequent but strong hooks to Clay's body. It was still Cassius' round by a large margin.
In the second, Clay continued to fire at will until, after one prolonged attack by the ropes, Miteff caught him with an enormous right, slowing Clay down for the rest of the round, which Miteff won. Toward the bell, Clay's punches, though as numerous as before, seemed to be losing their effectiveness. Alex hit him a good shot after the bell and then apologized theatrically to the booing crowd. Indeed, with his brutish style, the fight soon took on the morality of a wrestling match, Miteff playing the villain nicely.
Between the second and the third rounds Dundee told Cassius to start boxing, and he did, sticking and moving to good advantage. Miteff seemed to get more loutish as the fight progressed, occasionally letting his arms fall by his side and daring Clay to hit him, at other times making curious faces. Through the fourth and fifth rounds the pattern remained the same: Alex hooking for the body, and Clay either tying him up or fencing him off with rapid, appallingly accurate sequences of blows to his bruised face.
It was still a relatively close fight, and Miteff was very much in it, indeed often the aggressor, when the end suddenly came in the middle of the sixth round. Cassius had started a combination with a fairly tentative left jab, a measuring jab, no more, which didn't move Alex's head. He followed it with a short right hand of great sweetness that hit Alex on the point of the chin, and Alex went down slowly. He stumbled up at perhaps four or five and seemed able to continue the fight, but he was truly out on his feet, lurching along the ropes and then, in the determined important walk of a drunk, toward his corner. Referee Don Asbury stopped the fight as it was incontestably apparent that Miteff was in no shape to go on.
"I was surprised," Alex admitted afterward. He touched himself on the chin. "Just catch me on button," he said. "Things happen. It was like a dream. Everything is luck."
"We figured the kid would tire in the later rounds," Gil Clancy said. "Only there were no later rounds."
It was a notable victory for Clay, proving his ability to endure as well as dish out, and Dundee was well pleased with his prodigy.
"Listening," he told Clay. "That's the difference. If you listen and fight smart you can beat any fighter."
"He's got a long way to go," said Solomon McTier, who worked Clay's corner. "But he's going to come. Climb on my back, Cassius. I'm going to carry you to the hotel."
"You see," said Dundee, "the way he was tying up Miteff's left. He could never do that before. Now I'll teach him how to tie up the right. And he's starting to stick with authority. His jab's not a flick any more. It's a weapon."
"Roger Maris," said Cassius grandly, "the world of space—this is an age of records and record breaking. If you don't break some records you're a no one. I want to break some boxing records. I want to be the youngest heavyweight champion in history. I have to be first in the soup line."
Clay picked up an imaginary phone. "Patterson," he said. "This Dundee. Yeah, yeah, what's up, Dundee? Patterson, come on down and fight Clay."
"You tread nice and easily, Cautious," Angelo said. "You got a whole year or two to jiggle with."