Today is the 50th Anniverary of the Clay-Liston fight. The press is pointing out that this was the fight that put Cassius Clay, later Muhammed Ali, on the map. Well, ok, but that idea leaves out his Olympic Gold Medal in 1960 in Rome. It also leaves out the numerous boxing matches he won before 1964 on the way to earning the right to fight with Sonny Liston, the Heavyweight champion.
But it also leaves out the build up to the Clay-Liston fight on February 25, 1964, just a few short weeks after the Beatles debuted on Ed Sullivan. Yes, I remember the fight, and the controversy that arose after Clay won.
But I have one unforgettable memory of the buildup. Clay did a guest appearance on some late night TV program. Since I was only in 6th grade at the time, I somehow doubt that it was the the Tonight Show or (Jack Paar? Steve Allen?), because in those days a 6th grader wasn't allowed to stay up past 9:00 pm, 10:00 at the latest.
And on this program he performed the following poem. I wish could have found that actual broadcast. He stood facing the camera, as I recall it, captured from the midriff up, and looked confidently at the camera to deliver this very charming ode to the fight to come.
Most of my friends thought that the fight had been fixed and were reticent to give Cassius Clay any respect for having one the fight. As for me, I had heard his poem. I thought it was brilliant. I had no choice but to take his side. My friends were convinced I had no sense at all. After all, I had also declared in favor of the Beatles a few weeks earlier. I eventually got over the rejection.