Fifty years ago I was 13 years old.
Fifty years ago last night, my buddy Billy stayed over at my house. We “camped out” in the basement, with a stash of candy that, in those days, ranged from a penny to a nickel.
I had a transistor radio and we stayed up late to listen to the Heavyweight Championship fight. Sonny Liston was the reigning champ and some loud-mouth Olympian from Louisville, named Cassius Marcellus Clay was the challenger.
Like most people, we expected Liston to pulverize this kid.
Liston was a tough guy who looked like a stone wall with a moustache. Clay was a handsome young guy whose antics were over the top. He was loud, arrogant, obnoxious, and a host of other adjectives that could fill a paragraph. Everywhere he went, leading up to this fight, was turned into a circus.
Yes, the crowd did not dream, when they put up the money,
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
If there were a hundred people in the room, Clay was the only voice you heard and all eyes were on him. We thought we were going to witness a boxing match, but additionally we witnessed a remarkable athlete and master showman. He was light on his feet, dancing in the ring. He taunted his opponents, dropping his defense, quickly darting out of reach of punches.
As much as he loved to dazzle the audience with his speed in the ring, he also dazzled them whenever he spoke, because he spoke in rhyme. Before the evening was over, the Louisville Lip proved that he only said something if it was true. If he said he could do something, pay attention, because he could deliver on his promises.
Billy and I sat in the dim room and listened in amazement as Clay dominated most of the bout. We were shocked when Liston couldn’t finish the fight. But the fight was only seen in our minds, because we only had a radio.
Last night, 50 years later, I watched the fight for the first time, (and the rematch) on YouTube. It was a joy to be reminded of what a remarkable man Muhammed Ali was in his prime.