Among Ali’s victims were Sonny Banks (who knocked him down during the bout), Alejandro Lavorante, and the aged Archie Moore (a boxing legend who had fought over 200 previous fights, and who had been Ali’s trainer prior to Angelo Dundee). Ali had considered continuing using Moore as a trainer following the bout, but Moore had insisted that the cocky “Louisville Lip” perform training camp chores such as sweeping and dishwashing. He also considered having his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, as a manager, but instead hired Dundee. Ali first met Dundee when the latter was in Louisville with light heavyweight champ Willie Pastrano.
The teenaged Golden Glove winner traveled downtown to the fighter’s hotel, called Dundee from the house phone, and was asked up to their room. He took advantage of the opportunity to query Dundee (who was working with, or had, champions Sugar Ramos and Carmen Basilio) about what his fighters ate, how long they slept, how much roadwork (jogging) they did, and how long they sparred.
Following his bout with Moore, Ali won a disputed 10-round decision over Doug Jones in a matchup that was named “Fight of the Year” for 1963. Ali’s next fight was against Henry Cooper, who knocked Ali down with a left hook near the end of the fourth round.
The fight was stopped in the fifth due to deep cuts over Cooper’s eyes. Despite these close calls, Ali became the top contender for Sonny Liston’s title. Despite his impressive record, however, he was not widely expected to defeat the champ. The fight was scheduled for February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida, but was nearly canceled when the promoter, Bill Faversham, heard that Ali had been seen around Miami and in other cities with the controversial Malcolm X. At the time, The Nation of Islam — of which Malcolm X was a member — was portrayed as a “hate group” by most of the media.
Because of this, news of this association was perceived as a potential gate-killer to a bout where, given Liston’s overwhelming status as the favorite to win (7-1 odds), had Ali’s colorful persona and nonstop braggadocio as its sole appeal. Faversham confronted Ali about his association with Malcolm X (who, at the time, was actually under suspension by the Nation as a result of controversial comments made in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, which he called a case of “the chickens coming home to roost”). While stopping short of admitting he was a member of the Nation, Ali protested the suggested cancellation of the fight.
As a compromise, Faversham asked the fighter to delay his announcement about his conversion to Islam until after the fight. The incident is described in the 1975 book The Greatest: My Own Story by Ali (with Richard Durham). During the weigh-in on the day before the bout, the ever-boastful Ali, who frequently taunted Liston during the buildup by dubbing him “the big ugly bear” (among other things), declared that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” and, summarizing his strategy for avoiding Liston’s assaults, said, “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see. ” First title fight
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