Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 4/22/08-Cassius Clay

In today's excerpt--Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942, was an Olympic boxing gold medalist and professional three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In 1999, Ali was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and the BBC:

"The policeman's fighters also noticed that no one taught Clay anything. He just did what he wanted to do. ... [Policeman and trainer Joe] Martin believed there was one way to box, and one way only. He tried to convince Clay to box flat-footed, to slide his left foot forward as he jabbed and return the left arm to where it had begun--elbow tucked firmly to the side, fist next to the chin. It was the way ordinary men learned to fight. But Clay was not ordinary, even at 12 years old, and he knew it. ...

"That first year, as a novice flyweight, Clay lost seven fights. But in those defeats Joe Martin saw characteristics more important than skill. He saw how badly Clay wanted to be good; he was the hardest worker ever in Martin's gym. While the policeman recognized fear in Clay's eyes, he also saw how Clay reacted to it. 'All that talkin' he does,' Martin said, 'that's nothing but whistlin' past the graveyard. ... But he never quit in the ring. Takes guts to face what you're scared of. Clay's got guts.'

"The gym may also have been a safe place away from home. His daddy's whiskey nights scared him. The old man would take a swing at anyone in his way. When Odessa Clay could not handle it, she called the police. Cassius Sr. was arrested nine times for reckless driving, disorderly conduct, and assault and battery. ... He never did jail time, largely because the attorney Henry Sadlo, the state's boxing commissioner, had such affection for Cassius Jr. that he hauled himself out of bed at all hours to tell a judge that old Cash just needed to sleep it off.

"For three or four days in the summer of 1957, Cassius Jr. did not show up at Columbia Gym. That was strange because Clay was usually first to arrive and last to leave. When he appeared with a bandage on his thigh, he told Martin he had cut his leg on a milk bottle. Martin later heard another story. A policeman had been called to the Clays' home by Mrs. Clay after a domestic quarrel, 'either a cutting or a fight or something like that.' ... He told Mrs. Clay, 'Now, look, take him to your own doctor or take him to the hospital, and if you want to, go up and take out a malicious cutting warrant.' Louisville's police files held a cursory summary: "August 8, 1957-10:32 p.m., Mrs. Clay, cutting INV. [investigation] 3307 Grand. NA [no arrest]." Later that year, Cassius told Martin that he had been cut when he stepped between his daddy's knife and his mother."

Dave Kindred, Sound and Fury, Free Press, Copyright 2006 by Dave Kindred, pp. 35- 36.


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