In the past, in private, Cassius Clay, also known as Muhammad Ali, has referred to himself as Superspade. So if he can clear tall mosques in a single bound it follows that he didn't knock out Floyd Patterson because he didn't want to. No, it doesn't follow. Clay admits he wasn't trying in the first four rounds, but after that it was for real, since he had somewhat cruelly prophesied:
I'm going to put him flat on his bock So that he will start acting black.
Or, as Chris Dundee, his manager's brother, says, sort of kidding, "Clay lied to me. He told me he would carry him for six or seven rounds and then knock him out, so he made me blow a bet, the bum."
Clay didn't knock Patterson out because, in less than 25 words, he couldn't.
December 6, 1965
As Manager Angelo Dundee puts it, "He started out at a slow pace, and when you do that it's difficult to gear up."
If you don't knock a Patterson out early, you don't knock him out. He doesn't have a glass jaw. What he has is poor balance, and in the first few rounds, when he is readily diverted, he doesn't see the punches. It is a type of stage fright, which generally passes after the third round.
Moreover, Clay became conspicuously arm-weary and faintly alarmed. When he failed to put Patterson away in the sixth it dawned on him that the fight might go 15. As he said, "Fighting at that pace tires a man out, and the last four rounds can get you beat. I hit him so regular and so hard I had to back off to keep from wearing myself out." Indeed, Patterson was punching stronger at the end than in the beginning; the referee gave him the. 11th round.
Clay said beforehand he was going to "chastise" Patterson. After it was all over he acknowledged he had done that, and that he had no regrets, because "I do what I want to do. I'm something else. I'm a new kind of man." This is a man who lives off his ego as the salamander is supposed to have his tail for lunch. He also said he was going to knock Patterson out. So what would be the point in letting him stand there?
Actually, Clay's aim was not as true as it sometimes has been. He was hitting a lot of elbows and the top of Patterson's head—witness the swollen hands Clay displayed after the fight. Although Floyd was impeded by his aching back, so that he could not pivot to his left or bob in more than one direction, he was much more adroit than heretofore at knocking aside and picking off punches—witness his unmarked face. This is all the more remarkable because Patterson suffered a hitherto undisclosed blood clot in his left eye that greatly limited his vision. Says Floyd: "If Clay had realized this, he could have hit me all night long with right hands."
About the bad back. Patterson has had it for more than a decade—it has now been traced back to 1952—and it was never any kind of a secret; he slept on a board for years. It comes and it goes, and it could just as easily have happened in any of his previous fights, so if he was defrauding the public by going into the ring against Clay, he had been defrauding it all along. According to Dr. Reginald Gold, a chiropractor who used to treat Patterson, what Floyd has is a subluxation, which is a slight rotation of the fifth lumbar vertebra. This tends to go out of whack because of Patterson's constant weaving and the great wrenches when he misses hooks. Dr. Gold openly accompanied Patterson to the third Ingemar Johansson fight and to both Sonny Liston fights. After nearly every training session he would set up his portable table and work on Floyd.
Dr. Gold says that all the squeezing and lifting that Patterson's corner subjected him to between rounds could well have aggravated the back condition instead of helping it. If he had been in the corner he would have made Patterson lie down in the one-minute rest period between rounds and, by manipulation, corrected the dislocation. Another of this opinion is Cus D'Amato, Patterson's estranged manager. Cus actually had risen from his seat and was headed for Patterson's corner preparatory to climbing in the ring and throwing Floyd on his back, when he realized that this would have disqualified the fighter.
The day after the fight Mickey Allan and Buster Watson, his friends and cornermen, lowered Patterson onto a bed in the Dunes Hotel. Lying rigidly, Floyd talked about what had just happened to him and what he suspected lay ahead: "If last night the devil had come by and said, 'I'll make your back better if you let me blind you in one eye, flatten your nose, take away all your teeth and give you a cauliflower ear,' I'd have made the deal gladly. I wouldn't need a disguise then, would I? I wanted to take a knife and just cut that whole piece of my back out. All I could do was stand there like a Pygmy. This thing back here—I can never tell you the feeling. Baby, this thing. I'm not making any excuses. What happened would have probably happened anyway, but if I could just have said the hell with my back and fought my fight. I couldn't think about throwing punches. My mind was back there. Quit? Can you picture me sitting in a corner? As long as I could stand on these two legs and every once in a while throw one punch.... I just wanted one more chance, a little more time. Maybe if the referee had waited until the next round, and then the next, and then the next would have been the last. There was one chance in a thousand. I have that one chance. It crossed my mind last night. I said to myself at one point—I don't know in what round—that there wasn't even the one chance. I said, 'Why doesn't he move in and throw a series of punches?'
"A little more. One more time. These are favorite phrases of mine. I am a greedy man. I'm tired of starting from the bottom and going all the way up again, but.... As long as I don't chase Clay I'm faster than he is. I didn't prove it, but a fighter has a way of knowing. When I can see every punch coming.... When I think about retiring, my feet get very hot. I get chills. No more gym. No more roadwork. Then I say to myself, 'You know, Floyd, you're not going to live forever.' Why always one more time? Why? I enjoy training more than anything else. Walking in the country. Wipe that out of my life? I could build a gym in my home, but it's not the same. I don't train to keep myself in shape, I train to have my body beaten. I've got to retire sooner or later, but I prefer later.
"Clay is better when you're chasing him," Patterson went on. "He has tremendous legs going back. He was baiting me by jumping back. He wanted me to follow him. Before I hurt my back I came at him very slowly. I stood in the middle of the ring. He hadn't caught me with anything worthwhile."
This is true, but it is because Clay hadn't tried to. Alas, Patterson still has not figured out how to fight him. When Al Silvani, Floyd's cut man, checked into Vegas two days before the fight, he asked Patterson how he was going to fight Clay. "I have no plan," Patterson reportedly told him. Perhaps there was no way for Patterson, but standing in the middle of the ring as though you are waiting for a No. 5 bus was definitely not it. You must press Clay, take away his punching room. The head is a lure. He wants you to go for the head. But if you hit him in the body you will eventually slow the legs, and his legs are how he lives. This could be seen late in the fight, when Clay was flagging and Patterson got to him a few times, but the great, solitary punches had long since lost their fire.
Many of the critics say the fight was sickening, a demeaning mismatch. What was demeaning for a time were Clay's taunting and cheap gestures, but not the fight. And how come, if it was a mismatch on Nov. 22, it wasn't on Nov. 21? Was Patterson worthier on Sunday than he was on Monday? What is sickening is the steady, predictable stream of ex post facto moralizing. Why not elect the heavyweight champion by a two-thirds vote of the U.N. General Assembly and leave it at that? The critics aren't satisfied with a quick knockout, they don't want a one-sided fight. What they want is John Garfield coming out of one corner and James Wong Howe on his roller skates. They don't want reality. What the critics want, in essence, is theater, a TV show, a series of events arranged so that they have dramatic unity and interest—in other words, a fixed fight, but one where everybody had the winner the day before. This fight was the way life is, often intolerable and overwhelming, unsuspected, a letdown.
The handful of heavyweight title fights that have made good drama are the accidents of history. The Clay-Pattersons are the rule. The thing about prizefighting is that, while one man may win, the other man is not necessarily defeated. This is what makes it at all edifying, what it is all about. As Barney Ross has said—and, all right, it's corny—"A real fighter may lose the fight, but he's never defeated. A fighter is nature's nobleman." Says Cus D'Amato, "That's the beautiful thing about fighting, the courage and the valor displayed. That's why you buy a ticket—in the hope to see this, the best of man. The technique—that's intriguing, but it doesn't sell tickets." Izzy, a Vegas hairdresser, said it this way: "Patterson fought from the ground up. He fought with dust in his hands."
Nobody is saying it was a great fight, but it was history, a terrible reality. There is Angelo, who had written his prediction inside Clay's gloves—"M.A. [Muhammad Ali] K.0.4"—dying in the corner in the 10th round and shouting, "A body shot, Ali. Hit him in the belly. There he is. See him. Come on. He can't even stand up. There he is. Ali. Ali, just let him fall down. Let him fall down." Later he said, It wasn't one of his better fights. I expect greatness from him every time out. His best was the Doug Jones fight, because he proved his worth. His second best was the second Liston fight, because he took command, he realized his greatness. His third best was the first Liston fight, when he was like Columbus seeking the way.
"This time he aggravated me, but I was never worried. There were so many openings." Which brings to mind something Floyd said following the fight: "You see a lot of things in the ring. Taking advantage of them, that's the hard part." And, as Clay told Angelo between rounds, "Take him out? Take who out? You're not in there." Clay may not always listen to Angelo or do what he says, but he knows Angelo is always looking to help him. For example, just before the fight Angelo told Clay to be careful of the ring apron because it was very narrow. A little thing, but important for somebody like Clay who perilously works with the ropes at his back.
Despite the critics' gratuitous knocks, most people are coming to appreciate Clay's undeniable virtuosity. There are still a few—Billy Conn, for one—who persist in saying he fights like an amateur, to which Clay serenely replies: "Say what you want. I can't punch, I hold my guard too low, I lean back. But I'm still here." It is just because he is here, nearly unanimously acclaimed as a fighter of extraordinary ability, that it is so painful to witness his (naive?) debasement of the sport. Who needs it? Certainly not Cassius, the uncommon Clay.
Patterson has said, "Once the bell rings and all the lights go out, I don't know if my opponent is white or colored." This degree of depersonalization is too much, but it is not out of line with whatever ideals the game still has. You are not out there to beat a specific human being; it is not supposed to make any difference at all whether you like or dislike him as a person. He is just an opponent, some body in your way. That is where Clay went wrong. He was getting even, ex pressing an animus and, by way of excuse, he said that Patterson had started it. If so, he should have risen above it. Even later, while ostensibly lauding Floyd, Clay was giving him the works "In the eyesights of the world," he said at a press conference, "you're considered a good, clean American boy and I'm a bad Muslim. You should never work a day in your life. If you're down to your last dime the government should give you money—I know they won't. It would be a shame if you ended up scuffling."
In his way Patterson answered Clay while lying in the bedroom in the Dunes: "I'm convinced now that deep down inside Clay's a good person. Every now and then something good will seep through. I think—I'm older than Clay—if I had seen him someplace without a soul around and we took a walk, had lunch or dinner together, if we taped our conversation, the world would be shocked."
A lot of the hostility Clay provokes results from his devotion to the Muslims. "They've stolen my man's mind," says his wife Sonji, from whom he is seeking an annulment. "I love him. I'll never give him up, because he loves me." And Clay has admitted he is forsaking Sonji, "the only one I love," because of his religion. In unguarded moments the Muslims like to speak of the beauty of a prominent black man's bitterness, and when it shows signs of losing its edge they condemn him as a traitor. Clay is in no danger of such opprobrium. He has abandoned his once grandiose dreams of owning palatial apartment houses and tomato-red Cadillacs, and when pressed to say what he will do with his money he mutters something about building an Islamic Foster Home and "raising all them cute children." He says: "I used to be confused like most American black men. Negro—that's a name meaning dead. I used to want to be anything but black. I'd smoke once in a while, take a beer, pour whiskey in my Coke and I was about to try out reefers when I listened to our leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, that itty-bitty man."
Clay no longer fights merely for himself. "He whips himself up with this racial business," says a man close to Clay, "and when he gets in the ring he is not in there against a black man but against the entire white race."
Elijah got the word from a man using the name of Wallace D. Fard, who visited him in the early '30s and was, in reality, a manifestation of Allah. Elijah is fond of saying that Allah is not "a spook God, but a man." Clay relates how Master Fard stayed with Elijah and his missus for three and a half years, Mrs. Muhammad ironing his handkerchiefs, and was never known to sleep. Elijah used to spy on him through the keyhole of his bedroom door, and Fard, his back to him, would say, "Why don't you come in?"
According to Elijah's teachings, whites—from whom monkeys are descended—were created some 6,000 years ago by Mr. Yakub, a microscopist who was born with "an unusual size head," so that when he grew up he was called "the big head scientist." Because of his diabolical experiments Mr. Yakub, accompanied by 59,999 followers, was deported from Mecca to an Aegean island where he selectively bred the white race.
Although this version of prehistory is not widely accepted in Mecca itself, Clay believes it wholeheartedly—or so it seems. He also believes, with equal certitude, that he is unbeatable. Certainly there are not many fighters around who can refute—or even dispute—his claim. One who may get a chance is Ernie Terrell, whom Clay calls The Giraffe. Indeed, Terrell, with his immense reach and tough jab, might make a fight of it for seven or eight rounds, but he has a tendency to fold thereafter and to grapple tediously. However, the Louisville Group says Terrell will not get the shot unless he divests himself of his adviser, Bernard Glickman, an old associate of Frankie Carbo and other mustache guys.
In the expectation that Terrell will not be available, the Group (which could dwindle, since several of its members are fed up with Clay's antics), through its spokesman Angelo Dundee, is manfully building up 1) Doug Jones, whom Angelo, with a straight face, calls "a fast-paced little man, a pressure fighter," 2) a German, Karl Mildenberger, the European champion, who Angelo says is undefeated—which is untrue, but what is true is that in a recent fight he was knocked down three times by a former Clay sparring partner—and 3) Brian London. Brian London!
Will they all be Clay pigeons?