Muhammad Ali, who has grown from a cheerful, ingenuous boy into a cruel man, proved beyond any question that he is the heavyweight champion of the world when he destroyed Ernie Terrell in Houston's Astrodome Monday night. He fought with �lan and power and with a consummate sense of timing and distance, and when the fight was over he had punished Terrell unmercifully.
It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty.
"I want to torture him," Ali said two days before the fight. "I want to give him the Patterson humiliation and punish him. A clean knockout is too good for him."
For the first six rounds of this one-sided match, Clay moved cautiously, staying well beyond the range of Terrell's long left hand. Terrell, surprisingly, looked a bit like an elongated Floyd Patterson, using the same peekaboo style that Patterson employs but lacking the flashy punching speed that allowed Patterson to be effective.
"He just came to survive," said Angelo Dundee, Clay's trainer. "You can't knock out a fighter if all he wants to do is last."
Terrell came to do more than to survive. In the past he has used his right hand only as a defense; against Ali, he tried several right hooks to the head and body in the early rounds and once or twice reached Ali's ribs with a right. But none of them did any damage.
In the earlier going, Terrell's peculiar stance—both hands held high and elbows close together in front of his belly—frustrated Clay's two-handed volleys to his head. He caught most of the blows on his gloves, and when Clay, acting on instructions from Dundee, shifted the attack to the belly, Terrell simply hunched over more and brought his elbows together. In these rounds Clay's most effective weapons were a right-or left-hand uppercut between Terrell's gloves. In the second round he opened a small cut under Terrell's left eye.
It seemed an inconsequential injury, and Terrell was still fighting strongly and well, scoring on those occasions when he could crowd Clay into the ropes. But, according to Terrell, Clay had damaged his eye so badly that he was unable to see clearly.
"He rubbed my eye against the top rope in the second round," Terrell said. "He rubbed one eye on the rope and put his thumb in the other eye, and for the rest of the fight I was seeing two or three of him. His speed didn't bother me and he didn't hurt me with his punching, but I couldn't see him."
If Terrell's vision was impaired from the second round on, the fact was not apparent immediately. He fought surprisingly well, and his peekaboo style seemed to puzzle Ali. Indeed, in the fourth round he hit Clay with the best punch he landed all night, a sharp, crisp right cross over a tentative Clay jab. Ali slid away along the ropes and countered with a left, but Terrell hit him again with the right before Ali could escape. Muhammad weathered a storm of lefts and rights in this exchange by beautiful shifts of his head and body. This was to be the last really good round Terrell had.