The Phantom Punch at 50

Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video | Audio: Listen to the radio broadcast from the fight | Video: Can you see the punch? | Interactive timeline of the fighters’ careers | Newspaper coverage & readers’ memories from 1965

In 1965, both the Twin Cities travel agent and the world heavyweight champion were off to a pretty good start in their adult lives.

Ali had a big title and a mouth to match; Dube, a bold vision and a strong business acumen.

Those paths met at an unlikely intersection when Dube’s business — established less than three years at the time — was contracted as the official provider of transportation for Ali’s defense against Sonny Liston in Lewiston.

“We took everybody back and forth from both hotels,” Dube said.

Liston was first to arrive after the fight was relocated from Boston on May 7, only 18 days in advance.

His delegation set up camp at the Poland Spring Inns. Most visitors, at that time, took direct flights into Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport.

And after a day or two of getting fleeced by others in town, many greeted the arrival of Dube and his buses with gratitude.

“I met one guy who took a taxi from the airport to Poland Spring and the guy charged him $35,” Dube said.

Ali’s group arrived at the Holiday Inn (now the Fireside Inn) at the turnpike exit in Auburn on Sunday, May 23, a little more than 48 hours before the bout.

Fight promoter Sam Michael made the arrangement with Dube shortly after closing the deal to host the fight.

“We didn’t have much time to get ready, maybe a week,” Dube said. “They had to rush to get everything up from Boston.”

The assignment came with many perks. Michael made it possible for Dube to meet both fighters.

“Ali was the nicest guy, for a boxer who was always mouthing off,” Dube said. “Liston was very courteous but not the most talkative guy.”

Dube had a unique encounter with another world champion, as well.

He was standing outside the bus, conversing with Michael while checking identification, when one prospective passenger’s ticket didn’t pass the naked-eye test.

You’re not in the group, he told the man. Michael laughed.

“Sam said, ‘You know that’s Floyd Patterson.’ I didn’t know what else to say other than, ‘Oh, sorry about that.’ I was just looking at credentials,” Dube said. “I wasn’t even looking at faces.”

Many of Dube’s passengers were among the crush of 600 media sent to cover the fight.

He learned that the label of “world” title was no exaggeration.

“I remember the French reporter being shocked and kind of excited to see all the French names on signs,” Dube said.

Yes, Dube had “pretty good” seats for the fight, he said.

Any recollection of specifics regarding a “phantom punch” is hazy, however. Duty demanded that he shift into work mode as soon as the hullabaloo happened.

“Trying to round up everybody was tough. I also remember Robert Goulet had a hard time getting on the bus,” Dube said, furthering the urban legend that the anthem singer enjoyed his stay in L-A.

Dube, 74, started his business July 1, 1962, one day after getting out of the U.S. Army. He now has locations in Auburn, Augusta and South Portland.

“It certainly was a nice break for me,” Dube said. “I know it did a lot for us. There were reporters from all of the world, and most of them were very positive. I gave all of them my business card.”

The fight has never lost its value as a conversation piece, either.

“I travel all over the world,” Dube said, “and two or three times a year I’ll tell somebody where I’m from and they will say, ‘Oh, Ali fought there!’ It’s amazing.”

The Phantom Punch at 50: Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video


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