Robert Lipsyte is next. He’s worn two hats quite well, as both journalist and fiction writer. Lipsyte proceeds to tell a story containing so many preposterously unbelievable moments that it best be classified mythological, despite its basis in concrete reality.
He was a backup reporter in his twenties for the New York Times, assigned to cover a heavyweight title fight in Miami that the paper deemed unworthy of serious consideration. The bout, taking place on February 25th, 1964, pitted Cassius Clay, who would eventually change his name to Muhammad Ali, against Sonny Liston, the defending champ and brutal virtuoso of the knockout.
Clay was considered charismatic, yet given absolutely no chance against the dominant Liston. Clay was a curiosity, Liston the real celebrity, chosen to pose with The Beatles in a photo shoot days before the bout. Liston, though, threw the fab four out of his dressing room. They were being led down a gym stairwell by two burly security guards, aghast at this shabby treatment, when Lipsyte arrived on the scene. He explained, in vibrant detail, how the pictures were eventually taken with Clay, marveling at the snap action chemistry conjured between the contender and band. Clay would place his fist under one Beatles’ chin, and the others would fall like dominos, photographer snapping away. This obviously was not choreographed, master entertainers creating spontaneous art.
It was an amazing story, made more fascinating by an interlude which landed Lipsyte in a dressing room alone with the fuming Beatles, who had been rejected by Liston and not yet accepted by Clay. “I was the fifth Beatle,” he quipped, eventually bookending the anecdote by confirming Clay and Liston had both dubbed the band “Sissies.”
For me, a sixties music enthusiast, this tale was worth the trek from Queens, and then some. “I was a utility nighttime writer for the Times,” Lipsyte had begun innocently, “The Times, in their infinite wisdom, decided the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight wasn’t worth their regular beat writer.” After Clay shocked the world by defeating Liston, Lipsyte became the regular boxing writer at the Times.