When Cassius Clay and I were teenagers in Louisville, Ky., we used to lounge around Columbia gym and muse about the future.
"I'm gonna go to Harvard and be a success." I would say. "What are you gonna do when you grow up?"
Cassius would lean back in his folding chair, loosen his terry cloth robe, and case a vanilla smile across his chocolate face. "Little Phil, when I'm growed up, you'll know what I done."
Well, I do know, of course, and so does everybody else. Clay (or Muhammed Ali, if you wish) is on the threshhold of becoming the greatest heavyweight in the history of the ring. Floyd Patterson, Clay's opponent in Las Vegas tonight, will open the door just another crack. That's all; nothing more, nothing less.
A Lead-Pipe Cinch
It is absolutely certain that Clay will win this one. As Cassius says, "I got superior height, weight, balance, reach, speed, strength, and youth." In fact, the champion is so embarrassed about Patterson's total incompetence that, for once, he doesn't want to talk about it.
All Clay's other opponents have been subjected to frothing mouthfuls of abuse. Patterson got the same treatment at first: "He couldn't out-punch my ninety-year-old grandmother," Clay used to say about the former champion. "He is the only fighter I know with a one-hundred carat crystal jaw."
But then the champ got worried about the gate, and turned loud-mouth insult into patronizing praise. "The rabbit could be the one who nails me," Clay said a few weeks ago. That kind of statement should dissuade any fools who had considered laying a dollar or two on the challenger.
Patterson has not fought a good fight since the second bout with Ingemar Johansson. The fast, instinctive combinations that buried the Hammer of Thor are gone. Floyd went into both Liston bouts with a rigid pre-fight strategy -- indicative of a nature that has no place in the ring.
Enough has been said about Floyd's Hamlet complex. You don't need a killer instinct to beat the likes of Brian London, Roy Harris, and Peter Rademacher. But the thought that Floyd, if he got a good opening against City, would be even odds not to follow it up, is sad indeed. Clay said on television this weekend. "If Patterson ever dreamt he knocked me out, he'd apologies."
The primary interest in predicting this bout is figuring how far it will go. Liston floored Patterson in one; Clay ko'ed Sonny in one, but this fight may go as many as two rounds.
Clay was angered that the second Liston bout was so short. He wanted more time to humiliate the Bear, to show off his beautiful style. The cries of "Fix" also gave him second thoughts about how to best establish his supremacy among the likes of Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, and Joe Louis.
'One, Two, Yer Out'
Clay will come out in the first round with the hope of making the fight go six or seven. But Patterson's inability to box will make the strategy so embarrassingly obvious that the Champ will be forced to end it in two.
The fight will be shown on closed circuit television at the Garden beginning at 10 p.m. Don't be late.