ROBERT LIPSYTE, writer: “At that time, The [New York] Times pretty much regarded sports as its comics section. I was a feature writer. The fight was going to be over quickly; a total mismatch. My editor told me to drive back and forth between the arena and the closest hospital so I could be there first when Clay was brought in to intensive care. Instead, it turned out to be one of the great fights as well as one of the great weeks of my life.”
ROBERT LIPSYTE is an author and journalist, most recently ombudsman for ESPN. He covered the fight for The New York Times.
GEORGE FOREMAN is the former heavyweight champion who fought Ali (and lost) in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in 1974.
BILLY CRYSTAL is a comedian, actor and director whose 2013 memoir, Still Foolin’ ’Em, explains how his ability to mimic Ali helped launch his own career and resulted in a friendship that’s lasted more than 40 years.
JACKIE KALLEN managed middleweight champ James Toney (who portrayed Joe Frazier in the 2001 movie Ali) and was the subject of 2004’s Against the Ropes. She was played by Meg Ryan.
THOMAS HAUSER wrote the 1991 best-seller Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.
JERRY IZENBERG is a sports journalist whose Newark Star-Ledger career began in 1951. He currently is columnist emeritus for the newspaper. He covered the fight.
GEORGE FOREMAN, boxer: “Liston vs. Ali was the first boxing match I ever heard on a radio. I was in my big brother Robert Foreman’s home in Houston, Texas, and he had a few friends over. No one paid any attention to me, as though I was not even there. I heard everything they were saying. One man said, ‘That boy has been in them Olympics. His hands are fast!’ But they were all amazed when Ali won.”
BILLY CRYSTAL, actor: “I so loved Cassius Clay and was a huge boxing fan. I used to tape-record the fights on our reel-to-reel recorder. I had taped the Patterson-Johansson fights and still have them. When I saw My Life as a Dog, a Swedish film where a boy my age listens to fights on the radio rooting for Ingemar, I was brought back to the excitement I felt as a young person who loved an athlete and lived and died with him. There was no pay-per-view, no home TV. Just a great announcer, an amazing fight and the mystique of David and Goliath.”
JACKIE KALLEN, fight manager: “I was a senior in high school. I remember thinking Sonny Liston was the meanest, baddest man on the planet. He was an ex-con, controlled by the mob, and one look at him could shrink a man into a boy. Clay was the glib, smack-talking pretty boy. Most fans predicted his early demise. The fight was talked about for weeks after it was over. I was hooked. Boxing became my favorite sport.”
THOMAS HAUSER, writer: “I remember very clearly being a freshman at Columbia and listening to the fight on the radio in my dormitory room. Les Keiter did the blow-by-blow with Howard Cosell as his color commentator. There was no way to know what lay ahead, but there was a great excitement to it all. Don’t forget, back then the heavyweight championship of the world was the most coveted title in sports.”
JERRY IZENBERG, writer: “I have never been as certain about the outcome of a fight in my life. I knew it was a complete mismatch. I knew Liston very well by then. He seemed invincible. Shows you how much I know. Ali — I never knew anybody like him before or since. I came to consider him one of the five closest friends I have in the world. I think after the fight I wrote a line something like: ‘This is the night the cow cut up the butcher.’ ”