Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"I Shook Up the World"

"I Shook Up the World...I'm a bad man", the young man from Louisville, Ky said. "I must be pretty", he yelled at the reporters and anyone else in the auditorium with his mouth wide open. "I'm only 22 years old, I fought Sonny Liston and I don't have a mark on my face!" He said amazed at the feat he had accomplished and the fact that he survived a clash with a titan. "I must be pretty! I'm a bad man!"

And he had every reason to be scared of the man he had knocked out in the first round of their second fight.

In his day, Sonny Liston was more feared than Mike Tyson and more trouble than George Foreman. He was built like a gladiator and his face looked like it was made to scowl. Thunder roared and lightning struck, on the rare occasions when he did manage to smile. It seemed like there was nothing in the world that could scare Sonny Liston. The one time heavyweight champ had been an ex-con and a known leg breaker for the Outfit (that's the Chicago arm of the Mob to you). He had more run-ins with the cops than DMX and probably served more time in prison than any two rappers you can name. He truly was a bad man.

On the other hand his opponent Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, was a talented light heavyweight, with lightning quick speed and an awkward boxing style. He did everything wrong: he kept his hands down low instead of in a defensive position and he ran - alot, a whole lot. But mostly reporters and fight fans didn't like him because he ran his mouth. A lot. A whole lot. They nicknamed him the "Louisville Lip". He was just a kid they felt that needed a good butt whuppin'. And Sonny Liston would be the right guy to do it.

When they met for the second time in an auditorium in Lewiston, Maine (in a place that was normally an ice hockey rink) Clay, who had just changed his name to Muhammad Ali was not as scared as he was the first time they met. But he was nervous, for Liston was not a man to take lightly. One minute and some change into the fight, Ali hit Liston with a punch that very few ringside observers (or anyone else for that matter) saw. He called the punch 'the anchor punch' - which scientifically, isn't the greatest punch in the world. He learned it from the old black vaudeville performer Sambo. But nevertheless, it worked.

When Liston caught that punch square on his jaw, BAM, to the canvas he went. And, into history they went as well. Ali is now acknowledged as one of the greatest fighters ever and of the scariest opponents a man could face.

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