In 1960, Cassius was only eighteen years old. He was in Rome for the Olympic Games. He beat every opponent and he won an Olympic medal for the United States. He was an Olympic boxing champion. And he didn’t take off his Olympic medal for weeks-night or day.
At home in Louisville, he was famous. But he was black. And in Louisville in the 1960s there were places for white people and places for black people.
In many hotels, theaters, stores, and buses, black people didn’t sit with white people. One day Cassius wanted to buy a drink in a «white» store. It was a problem. «Whites only,» they said.
«But I’m the Olympic boxing champion — I’m famous,» Cassius said.
«Whites only,» they answered. «Go away!»
Cassius was very unhappy about that. «I’m going to be the World Champion,» he said. «I’m going to be important. Then white people are going to sit down with me and listen to me.»
After the Olympic Games Cassius started to fight for money. Boxing wasn’t a game now. It was his work. He moved from Louisville to Miami. He went to a new gym in Miami, and he had new friends. One of them was
Angelo Dundee. He worked with Cassius in the gym and was always with him for his fights.
The First Fight with Sonny Liston
In 1964, Cassius Clay was twenty-two years old. He was tall and strong. After nineteen fights and nineteen wins, he wanted to fight the world champion, Sonny Liston.
Clay always moved very quickly in his fights. He danced here and there in the ring. His opponents were big, strong men. But they lost because their punches usually didn’t hit him.
But Liston was the world champion and a very strong boxer. The newspapers in the U.S. said, «Liston is going to win this tight. Clay is very young. Liston is going to kill him.» Only three newspapers said, «Maybe Clay can beat the champion.»
The fight was in Miami, and it was on television in a lot of American theaters, too.
Young Cassius Clay wanted to be famous and make a lot of money. Before his fights, he played a game. He talked and talked. Usually boxers were quiet men, but Clay’s mouth was always open.
Before every light ho said to the people and the newspapers. «I’m beautiful. I’m good. Pm quick and strong. Pm going to beat that man in two, or three, or four rounds.» White people were angry with him. They didn’t like this young black man with the big mouth. «Kill him!» they said to his opponents. «Close that big mouth for him.» But then, of course, a lot of people wanted to see the fight Before the tight with Sonny Liston, Clay played this same game. Liston was very strong, but he wasn’t very quick.
The fight is on February 25. In round 1 Clay starts to dance. Liston can’t hit him. Sometimes Clay hits his opponent’s face — one, two very quick punches. Then he moves away. Liston goes after him, but slowly. He is big and strong, but he can’t hit the young Clay.
Clay goes back to his chair. He smiles at his friend, Angelo Dundee. «That’s the first round, and he didn’t kill me,» he says. «I can win this.» Liston is on his feet. He doesn’t want to sit down. He wants to start round 2.
But it is the same story in rounds 2 and 3 and 4. Clay dances across the ring and Liston can’t catch him. Sometimes he hits Clay, of course but Clay is always moving away. And he is hitting Liston’s face and eyes all the time.
After six rounds, Liston sits down. His face is red and one eye is closing. Suddenly he is very tired. «That man can hit!» he says.
Now it is round 7 and Clay is standing up on his feet. He is waiting, but his opponent isn’t moving from his chair. Cassius Clay is the new champion of the world and he is only twenty-two years old.
He calls to the newspaper men near the ring. «I am the champion. I’m beautiful. I’m number one in the world. And you were all wrong, wrong, wrong!