LIPSYTE: “The Beatles were royally [peeved]. They were brought to the beach first for a photo op with the champ. Liston took one look and said, ‘I won’t pose with those sissies.’ So they’re brought to meet Clay instead. I’m at the gym. Clay’s late. The Beatles are cursing. He finally shows up and says, ‘Come on Beatles. Let’s go make some money.’ They strike a pose in the ring where he taps George and the rest go down like dominoes. Clay says, ‘You boys aren’t as stupid as you look.’ John Lennon says, ‘No, but you are.’ Then they go off to their destiny and Ali goes off to his.”

IZENBERG: “It’s a miracle he made it through the prefight exam. His blood pressure was through the roof. There were rumors Ali went straight to the airport to fly back to Louisville so he wouldn’t have to fight.”

HALLORAN: “On fight night, his brother Rudy was on the undercard. His first pro fight. Cassius and me and Sugar Ray Robinson, one or two more, we go up about 12 rows to watch. Remember, he’s 21, 22, he’s nervous, he’s got the fight of his life coming up. Rudy won. Cassius­ goes back to the locker room and starts punching steel lockers with his fists. He’s ready to burst. When he stretched out on a rubdown table, Sugar Ray sat on him so he couldn’t move.”

CAPLAN: “The auditorium in Santa Monica went crazy when Clay came out for the fourth round and something was in his eyes. Angelo Dundee’s on the screen, screaming at him, ‘Stay away! Stay away!’ ”

OLDERMAN: “Like everybody else at ringside, I was stunned when Liston sat on his corner stool and didn’t come out for the seventh round, making Clay the new champion. Jimmy Breslin, who was making his mark as a New York columnist, came over to compare our scoring for the fight. ‘I got Liston ahead,’ he said, shaking his head.”

KALLEN: “I remember being shocked when Liston quit. Was the fight fixed? Did Liston really tear a muscle in his arm? Or was he simply outboxed and outsmarted?”

HALLORAN: “Cosell was there, but because of my friendship with ­Cassius, I had a better seat than he did. I told my cameraman, ‘Let’s go,’ and I was in the ring first. I got my microphone and I’m interviewing Clay and I feel some guy pulling on my blazer. It was Cosell. That’s how I met him.”

FIRESTONE: “I listened to the radio with my dad, and we couldn’t believe it. It was probably the last of the great radio prizefights.”

CRYSTAL: “You had to imagine the mayhem in the ring. Liston sitting on his stool. Ali wide-eyed and screaming, ‘I upset the world!’ and ‘Give me justice!’ It’s still the best fight that I have ever ‘seen.’ ” 



MIKE DOWNEY is a former Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune columnist and a regular contributor to American Way. He wrote the cover story on Magic Johnson for the Feb. 1, 2013, issue.