The first fight was called a bore and a fraud. Sportswriters have been proclaiming for months they wouldn't go to the rematch if it were held in their own back yard. Boston chased the fight out of town and now it's being held in some godforesaken burg called Lewiston, Maine.
And yet, depite all the blasts it has received, tonight's heavyweight title fight between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston should be one of the most interesting and dramatic sports events in many years.
The potential greatness of the fight does not lie in the prospect of its being a toe-to-toe, bash-each-other's-brains-out encounter. If that were the case, the battle would be over before you could find Lewiston on a road map.
Matching of Opponents
Liston vs. Clay is a classic matching of opposites, like Los Angeles' pitching against New York's power in the '63 series, the Bears' defense against the Giants' offense, UCLA's hustle against Michigan's muscle in the NCAA basketball tourney.
Tonight it's the tired old man with the sledge hammer flats against the fast slick kid with all the finesse.
It is clear that Clay has developed considerably since the last fight in Miami. Not only is he in peak physical condition, he has the self-confidence now which was only bravado last year. But Clay's strategy will be essentially the same: stay away from Sonny and let him beat himself. In Miami Liston charged out of his corner like a wild bull elephant intent on polishing off the challenger as quickly as possible. Clay ran, ducked, sidestepped, and counterpunched with dexterity. Though Liston was forced to quit in the seventh round after injuring his arm, Clay's strategy had worked so successfully that the Big Bear probably would have been beaten anyway.
Liston Still Strong
Sonny's performance in Miami was somewhat pathetic, but anyone who saw either of his two knockouts of Floyd Patterson cannot underestimate the man. If Liston went into the ring on crutches, he would still be a potent threat.
If he has learned his lesson, Liston won't be in a frantic hurry to dispose of Clay tonight. He will stalk his man, trying to conserve his energy for the fifteen-round cat and mouse game, and wait patiently for the opportunity to break Clay in half with one swipe of his left hand.
If Liston follows this strategy--as he must--he will win. The 400 square feet of that ring in the Central Maine Youth Center will not enable Clay to stay out of reach for 15 rounds. My guess is Liston at 1:20 of the fifth round.