Sonny Liston meets Cassius Marcellus Clay tonight for the Heavyweight Championship of the civilized world, and most experts expect that Sonny will subdue the loudmouthed challenger just like a big pappy bear does when he whups his whining cubs.
Fact is, with odds at 7 to 1 for Liston the only smart money riding on Cassius is covering big money bets on the champ. Sports Illustrated ran a cover photo this week of Cassius grimly perched on a one million dollar mountain of money. The caption reads, "My $1,000,000 Getaway."
Clay's handsome face, big mouth, and bad poetry combined with the smart public relations of owner Bill Faversham, Jr. '29, have insured that Cassius will carry home a bulging purse, but Clay's doubtful defense are not likely to keep him standing much past the third round.
Sonny says he will end the "rabbit hunt" no later than round three. Clay claims he will drop 'the ugly bear" in the eighth and that if, by some twist of fate, Liston should win, "the prettiest ever" will crawl right across the canvass and kiss the champ's big feet. Liston, with characteristic dry humor, replies that he will be fucked away in bed by that time while Clay will just be awakening fom enforced slumber.
Cassius steps into the ring tonight with one asset, speed, and one equalizer, size. On Sonny's side of the ledger are strength, reach, experience, offensive power, defensive skill, and if he even needs it, the psychological edge of the invincible.
Clay's one chance of finishing the fifteenth round in vertical position is to hit and run, and mostly to run. Eddie Machen did it four years ago and lasted ten rounds without winning one. Floyd Patterson stood up to Sonny... for a total of four minutes in two fights.
Rely on Speed
Cocky as he seems outside the ring, Cassius knows the odds and will rely on speed to keep away from Liston in the early rounds. According to the Clay strategy, if Cassius can survive the first half of the fight he will face a tiring and frustrated champ, vulnerable to quick jabs, sharp combinations and perhaps to the Clay favorite, a left uppercut.
There are enough holes in this strategy to sink a small destroyer and more than enough to sink Cassius Clay. For one thing, Liston is not going to stand in the center of the ring for seven rounds and watch Cassius dance around him, nor will he madly chase a fleeting shadow. Sonny stalks his prey with the relentless drive of a Sherman tank. Anyone who saw the second Liston-Patterson travesty noticed that Sonny is not slow; slower than Clay, yes, but certainly agile and savvy enough to catch Cassius in a corner.
Two Fatal Flaws
Secondly, Clay has two fatal defensive flaws: he fights with fists held far too low to provide adequate protection for his pretty face. Henry Cooper, lacklustre British champion, took advantage of this defect last summer and nearly spoiled Clay's perfect record. Cassius recovered from the Cooper blow and went on to win, but no one recovers from a Liston left hook.
Clay also has the dangerous habit of leaning back to avoid punches, and, given Liston's two-inch reach advantage, the chances are that Cassius will not be able to lean back far enough.
In short, Cassius will be hit and every time he is hit, whether by Sonny's battering left jabs, by a pounding free fist in a clinch, or by the hook, Cassius will get a little slower and a little weaker. If Sonny does not KO Cassius in the third or fourth according to schedule, Sonny will win the war by attrition.
Sonny Still Vigorous
Sonny may be 31 years old, but he is hardly a candidate for Medicare. If the fight should last into the seventh or eighth Liston will not be perceptively slower, but Cassius will be. If Cassius ever comes to Sonny to trade punches, Sonny will win sooner; if Cassius runs, Sonny will win a little later.
As Joe Louis said last week, there are only two strategies for Cassius: to stay away from Liston, and to stay away from Liston as long as possible.
Round four should be long enough.