MUHAMMAD ALI was supposed to fight the winner of my fight with Mike DeJohn in Louisville, Kentucky in September 1963. I saw Cassius, as he was known then, and he was wearing a three-piece suit with a vest and he had his shirt tied. He looked very preppy actually. Bill King told me that Cassius was going to flex his muscles and Mike DeJohn is going to feel one arm and I was to feel the other arm. I said, “Okay.”
So I was feeling his arm and I remember thinking to myself, “That’s not a very big arm”. It wasn’t really imposing. I mean it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very big. I decided to have a little fun with this so I said, “How you doing Popeye?” He was posing with his arm clenched and he looked at me kind of funny and he said, “Why are you calling me Popeye?” I said, “Well Popeye has huge forearms, which I assume you must have, and he has very small biceps, which is what you have, very small biceps.” He laughed and said that his previous opponents Archie Moore talked that way, Alex Miteff talked that way, everyone talked that way.
Mike DeJohn lasted the distance because every time he was in trouble they’d pick him up, pull me away or warn me. It was crazy. After the fight, Ali said he wouldn’t fight me because I fight rough and tough like a washroom woman.
In ’65 I fight Ernie Terrell for the WBA title and they give it to Terrell. I don’t care what anyone says, I beat Terrell.
Terrell was then supposed to fight Muhammad Ali, who was the WBC champion. But 17 days before that fight I get a phone call. “Do you want to fight Muhammad Ali? Ernie Terrell had to pull out.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said.
So I had 17 days’ notice which isn’t a hell of a lot when the fight is 15 rounds. But it was no problem. I fight the fight and he has this cup on. People were saying that I’d thrown a lot of low blows but I was just hitting him on the red part of his cup, which was way above his belt.
People said I threw a lot of punches low, but most of them landed on or above the beltline. I remember thinking before the fight as were getting introduced while I was looking at his trunks, it was like Elmer Fudd fighting Bugs Bunny when his ears were sticking out of the trunks! I felt like Elmer Fudd.
It was a tough fight, he fought a good fight but I would liked to have had another couple of months training.
He went to the hospital after the fight, and I went and danced with my wife. He went to the hospital with bleeding kidneys. He peed blood for a few weeks because I banged him on the body pretty good.
I don’t remember much about the fight. I remember more about watching it as a spectator when I’ve watched it on tape since. You see it differently that way, my memories are of how the fight looked on TV, not how it looked to me at the time.
I thought I won the rematch, I thought I won that fight. He wasn’t the same fighter in ’72 though. I realised he wasn’t as fast; he just wasn’t as sharp. He went into exile during his formative years and they were important years. You can’t be the same fighter, you can’t lose those precious years and still be the same fighter. He was never the same after that. Ever. He had to rely on cunning to beat guys like George Foreman. He didn’t beat them because he was so skilful, but he was cunning in his approach.
In the first fight he moved a lot more, in the second fight he didn’t move as much. He’d lost that little edge, he hadn’t retained all his skills. It is just the way it is.
When I think of Ali at his absolute best was the fight with Liston, the first fight. He shocked the world. He was under pressure and he showed what he was about as Liston chased him all around the ring. I thought Ali would fall like a cheap tent but he was too elusive and moved backwards beautifully. He moved this way, then the other, and Liston was frustrated. Liston couldn’t hit him in the ass with a bowl of sand.
After that fight he converted to Islam and changed his name and that caused a storm. Then there was all that with Vietnam. When we fought in Canada, it was a relief to him to get away from the badgering he was getting in the States. He didn’t feel that pressure in Canada, he had a good time there.
Who knows how much better he would have been if had kept going during those exile years? It’s hard to say.