Following his debut win over Tunney Hunsaker in 1960 Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) travelled all around the United states winning fight after fight. Standing at 6’3, Clay’s unorthodox style left his opponents confused. For one he didn’t stand still for a second constantly moving in the ring, plus he could move his hand and feet at the same time with great coordination and to add it unlike the traditional boxing style of defending the face by bringing hands in front Clay’s reflexes allowed him to keep his hand in attacking positions and simply rely on his speed allowing him to avoid punches. This plus his over the top bragging, opponent trashing persona meant half of the game was often won even before entering the ring.
After Tunney Clay defeated Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, Jimmy Robinson, Donnie Fleeman and LaMar Clark in knockouts. His next fight was against Kolo “Duke” Sabedong in Las Vegas Convention Center which at that time was the new Mecca of boxing. He won this fight by a points decision too. Next up was Alonzo Johnson on July 22, 1961. Johnson was the first boxer holding a national rank to go up against Clay. He won this one too via a points decision. Following this Alex Miteff suffered a knockout.
The next fight against Willi Besmanoff started a new streak. Before the fight, Clay proclaimed that he was embarrassed to face such low level of competition and that he was ready for top contenders like Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. He predicted that Willi will fall in the 7th round. Clay practically played with Willi for 6 rounds before knocking him out in the 7th just to deliver on his prediction. Clay’s next bout was against Sonny Banks and marked his first appearance at the famous Maidson Square Garden. He predicted a 4th round knockout and duly delivered.
Don Warner fell a round earlier than the predicted 5 because he refused to shake Clay’s hand before the fight. George Logan got knocked out in the 4th while Billy Daniels lasted 7 rounds in May 1962. Alejandro Lavorante made it to the 5th before suffering the knockout punch. Clay’s next opponent was Archie Moore who was one of the most prolific fighters out there with 219 fights under his belt. But he was 45 when he fought Clay and the fight was over in the fourth. Another correct prediction in a 3rd round win against Charley Powell meant that Clay had correctly predicted the round in which he would knockout his opponent in 13/14 of his KO wins.
The next two fights formed the biggest challenges that Clay had faced in his career so far. On March 13, 1963 he was taken the distance by Doug Jones. The crowd booed Clay after the judges declared him the winner and the fight was named fight of the year by Ring Magazine. In June he faced Henry Cooper at Wembley England. Clay predicted that Cooper would fall in 5 and was taking things lightly despite getting a bloodied nose in the first round itself. At the end of Round 4, Cooper connected with a strong left and Clay was down as the sound of the gong rang sounding the end of the round. His trainer informed the referee that there was a tear in Clay’s glove but there were no spare gloves around. He launched a brutal assault on Cooper in the fifth as the fight was duly called off in the same round, Clay’s prediction again came true.
By this time Clay was 19-0 in his career and had done enough to earn a fight for the Heavyweight Championship against Sonny Liston