When the Louisville Lip knocked out the Big Bear in under two minutes of their re-match at the Central Maine Youth Centre in May 1965, the legend of the phantom anchor punch was born. Most in the audience and on the grainy black and white broadcast didn’t see it but Sonny Liston was a beaten man. As he lay on the canvas, Ali stood over him and screamed; “Get up and fight, sucker. Nobody will believe this.” Liston didn’t get back up and it was a one-round knockout. Rumours of mob involvement swirled for years. Did Liston throw the fight in the first to keep his mob connections happy? The image on the back pages of the world’s newspapers of Ali berating Liston remains one of the most iconic in sport.
And today it’s knockout racing in the America’s Cup. If Ainslie can ‘do a Muhammed Ali’ and knock out the Italians in the first then it’s straight to the final of the Prada Cup and a valuable three weeks of modification time lays in store. The Italians will be forced to compete in the repecharge semis with a fired up American Magic throwing the works at them. It would be the worst possible scenario for Jimmy Spithill and his crew.
Listening to the press conference last night revealed very little. Actually watching the press conference told me everything. The body language on display and the facial expressions when the cameras panned away was a fascinating insight into the Prada Team. They look uncomfortable in their presence and I have to say, Spithill looked uncomfortable in that expensive team uniform. It was a pretty dire performance. Francesco Bruni looked slumped in his chair and about as disengaged from his co-helm as possible. What is going on there?
The response to whether they would sail a practice race, in effect, on Sunday should they lose the opening bout to Ineos was also a look into the mind-set of the team. They pointed at their boat and got their excuses in early. They will only race “if” the boat is okay to race. I tell you what, if they lose, there’s no way on planet earth that boat is coming out of the shed on Sunday.
And then came the playground tactics when both Ben and Jimmy had a double-header thrown at them about the importance of Mercedes to Ineos and Pirelli to Prada. Ben was full of praise for their saviours, saying that support came right from the top of the F1 Team in the form of Toto Wolff and James Allison (and they really are the very apex of that team). Impressive and we can all only imagine at what that support translates into.
The microphone was then passed to Jimmy who, in best playground mode, attempted to diss Mercedes by saying that Pirelli works with ‘all’ the teams in F1 and so they have support and input from across the grid. Did anyone have the guts to tell him that Pirelli are the tyre manufacturer? And to be honest, they spend their entire weekends looking at rubber that has delaminated or tyre walls that have exploded. Hardly the aero Kings of the grid. It was cheap and obvious from Jimmy.
On this form, Prada are done. But it gets better. The media quite rightly probed to know more about the sailing relationship between Ben and Giles Scott. Good answers from the multi-gold medallists were offered. It’s a double-act that’s working beautifully on the water. When the mic was thrown to Jimmy, he claimed that they had more than a double act – they had three inputs – so that’s even better. Well, even a blind man can see that this dual helm stuff isn’t working and the relationship and communications between the brash Aussie and the quiet, charming Italian isn’t clicking like a Harken ratchet block right now. Something’s up. I guarantee you. Are they so keen to not race on Sunday to try and re-engineer the boat and go single helm? Or is it something else? My money’s on Jimmy angling for the all-out skipper role after the anchor punch gets laid down by Ineos this evening (UK time).
And as for the revelation that Prada are trailing Team New Zealand to see their latest modifications (new slender wings apparently) you wonder whether the Italian chase boat is on a jolly? Looking at what Team New Zealand is doing is like a kid at the zoo watching a gorilla eat a banana.
And a quick word on the sublime Iain Murray. He’s running this racing superbly and there is nobody better in the world to be doing it. He’s supported by a fabulous team and an even more fabulous group of volunteers giving up their summer to put this event on. But he looks absolutely shattered. He is clearly weapons-grade in America’s Cup politics and the events of the recent days has tested him to the limits. Can everyone give him a bit of a break going forward.
Iain announced a slight change to the rules that if you capsize, you’re out. The reason being that they can get the support boats in quicker and not have to wait five minutes as was in the rules before. Good move. He’s also, clearly been beaten up by Dalton to not race on exposed courses. This event just cannot afford to have another capsize or big incident that puts a boat or crew in danger. It would not only be a disaster for that team – but a disaster for the tournament. The drama of American Magic has woken everyone up and hit home.
So I’m licking my lips like a prize fighter at the prospect of 13-16 knots of South Westerly producing some fabulous tactical racing between Ineos and Prada. My expectation is for an Ineos win. My hope is for an Ineos win. My belief is for an Ineos win. My worry is for the outright boatspeed of the Brits. A rocket-ship this isn’t. Yet.
But get up and fight sucker!
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