England never did nor never shall lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, Shakespeare says, and,sure enough, she has endured plague, blitzkrieg, treacle pudding and Gauls. But then one day last week came the biggest gall of all. A TWA jet shrieked into London and discharged bumptious Cassius Clay. Instinctively, Britain braced.
Self-advertised as "the uncrowned world champion," Clay is indeed an extravagantly promising boxer and the next—if illogical—contender for Sonny Liston's heavyweight title. What brought him to London was a match with grizzled Henry Cooper, against whom Clay hoped to redress his sorry performance with Doug Jones last March. But the Clay-Cooper fight was still more than a fortnight away. In the meantime, Louisville's Lip decided to square off with Britain's Stiff Upper.
Cassius in England applied the economic theory he has found so workable in the U.S.: to sweeten the gate you must first sour the people. "I'm only here," he told the natives, "marking time before I annihilate that ugly bear, Liston." As for Henry Cooper, the British and Empire champion fondly known to fans as "Our 'Enery"—well, tut. He was a tramp, a bum and a cripple,Cassius allowed, not worth the sweat of the training ring. "After fiverounds," said Clay, "Henry Cooper will think his name is Gordon Cooper:he'll be in orbit." Then Cassius set out to strut the town, offering hisautograph for a ¬£5 note, calling Buckingham Palace a "swell pad" and,while a cold shiver ran down the national spine, saying, "It's growing onme, England."
Gradually thepress found its own voice; columnists gruffed about his rudeness, his immodestyand his big mouth. Did he really mind? Hardly. His critics had fallen into thebaited trap, his philosophy of sweet-and-sour ham was working like a charm, andtickets were selling like fish and chips. Observed C. Marcellus Clay Esq.,riffling through a sheaf of sterling: "I talk for these."
June 9, 1963
"I'm not too worried about this Cooper fellow," Cassius Clay saidrecently, and it was plain he was not bluffing. Clay broke off training inMiami a full month before the fight and drove his Cadillac convertible to hishome in Louisville. Angelo Dundee, his trainer, said he was confident Cassiuswould work out in Louisville, worried only that he might "go stale fromovertraining." Dundee's fears were groundless. Instead of working, aquiescent Cassius stayed up late, slept late and recited rough drafts of poemshe would later deliver in England. Once he bestirred himself enough to have atelevision set installed in the rear seat of his car, another time rode a bikewith neighborhood kids. But mostly he played Monopoly with the children."I'm tired of training to fight stiffs," he told them. "All's Iwant is a crack at Liston."
TALK OF TWOCITIES
Fearful ofplanes, Cassius drove on to New York with his brother Rudy, a friend namedTuddie King—introduced variously as his chauffeur or bodyguard—and a sparringpartner, James Ellis. "Louisville is a sad town," he said on arrival."It doesn't have enough to do." What Cassius found to do in New Yorkwas to carouse with girl friends until 6 in the morning, to pay a social callon Sugar Ray Robinson (who stood him up) and to talk with his theatrical agentabout a recording of Clay's amateurish poetry, some of which will beprofessionally embellished. Consumed with greed, Cassius also announced hewould allow the fight to be televised by Telstar "provided my cut is bigenough." "That's the spirit, baby," said his agent.
Then, more afraidof seasickness than engine failure, Cassius flew off to London. There he gavehis first autograph to a customs official and held a press conference to whichone paper had gleefully assigned its drama critic. Next Clay Rolls-Royced toNottingham and whipped a fight crowd there into a frenzy of good-naturedcatcalls and boos by holding aloft the signboard designating round five, areference to the moment when he has predicted that he will dispatch Cooper."A most inflammable person," breathed a girl, falling hard for hisstyle.
WITH LONDON ATBAY
Not everyone found Clay's flame irresistible, and evidence of this came fromboth sides of the Atlantic. Time you start training, crackled a cable fromCassius' Louisville headquarters. "You talk too much," cracked a BBCtelevision announcer while interviewing Clay. But Clay paid no particular mind.He went nightclubbing, attended the dog races—where he watched the Cassius ClayHurdles—and dropped in at posh Gieves, outfitters to H.R.H. The Duke ofEdinburgh. He sauntered out with a new bowler (his head is lopsided, the hattersaid) and a red brocade cocktail jacket with a dragon motif. "People tellme to hang one on him and button his lip," said Henry Cooper, "and 1 amlooking forward to doing just that." Naturally, at week's end Henry Cooperwas the sentimental favorite. And, naturally, the smart money was all behindCassius Clay.