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

It was still an era when you could break a story at any hour of the day or night, which Marcotte demonstrated by dishing out the scoop on arguably the biggest breaking sports story in Maine’s history.

Thanks to a working relationship with promoter Sam Michael, a good network of resources, and yes, a little bit of luck, former Lewiston Journal reporter Marcotte made the announcement that Lewiston would host a heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston.

“All the credit goes to Sam Michael,” Marcotte said. “He would bring boxing, the circus, concerts. If you wanted to come to Maine, it was pretty hard to do without Sam.”

Michael often wore one of his many hats into the Park Street offices of both the Lewiston Daily Sun and Lewiston Journal, sister publications that still competed with one another when it came to breaking news.

His late-morning visit on Friday, May 7, 1965, seemed especially urgent.

“A few days before that, when the commission wasn’t going to let the fight happen in Boston, Sam said, ‘I’m going to try to get that fight.’ He came in Friday and said, ‘We’ve got it wrapped up,’ and I overheard him,” Marcotte said. “It was late in our day, 11 o’clock to noon. We were getting ready to put the paper to bed.”

Despite Marcotte’s familiarity with Michael, a one-source story didn’t compel him to risk his reputation.

Michael urged the young writer to call Saul Feldman, president of Poland Spring Hotels. Michael and the national promoter, Inter-Continental Promotions, Inc., already enlisted Feldman to host the training camp for one of the fighters.

“I got hold of Saul and said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘We’re going to get the fight. You can bank on it.’ We stopped the presses right then,” Marcotte said.

Marcotte got a second confirmation via the sports editor of Ali’s hometown Louisville Times, who was getting a head start both on his own coverage and hotel accommodations. Tri-county readers had the news in their hands when Gov. John Reed made the official announcement at 4 p.m.

The Journal published on Saturdays, so Marcotte was back at his desk the next morning when an unfamiliar face wandered into the building. It was legendary sportswriter Red Smith, a noted critic of Ali.

“He flew in the very next day to see Norm Thomas, our sports editor. I didn’t know Red Smith from anybody,” Marcotte said. “He walked in and said, ‘I want to speak to Paul Marcotte.’ The only reason he asked for me is that my name was on the story. I said, ‘OK, who are you?’ We spoke for quite a while. He was actually interviewing me. He had all kinds of questions.”

Fight day, Tuesday, May 25, was a long and intriguing one for Marcotte.

He made his usual rounds to City Hall, itself home to a once-famous boxing arena on the third floor. The scuttlebutt, he said, is that the FBI had a presence in town. Its main concern: A rumored assassination attempt planned against Ali.

During the same shift, a young photographer stopped in the newsroom.

“He made an announcement. ‘I need to hire somebody who knows how to load a 35-millimeter camera in the dark. The job was to stay under the ring and keep loading the camera,” Marcotte said.

The visitor was Neil Leifer, who later that night took what became an iconic photo of Ali taunting his fallen opponent.

“Norm Keneborus ended up taking the job,” Marcotte recalled. “It was $75 for the night. He probably made $35 or $40 a week at the time.”

Marcotte was only an extra at the arena, in case something unfortunate or newsworthy transpired. He arrived at 6 p.m. without a ticket, but the security guards knew him from the paper and let him through. Others were subjected to heavy search, he said.

Like most spectators, Marcotte has a unique story of how he missed the fateful punch that ended the fight.

“My wife Jean is from Scotland, and I knew that my father-in-law would be up at 5 a.m. watching the fight,” Marcotte said. “I was trying to get into ABC camera range so he could see me. By the time I got into position where I thought I would be on TV, the fight was over.”

Only three years later, Marcotte’s career in the newspaper business was over, too. He transitioned into public relatioins.

Today, Paul and Jean live in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“My first year at the Journal, I sat around and answered the phone. Then I finally got my beat. I enjoyed it even though I starved to death,” Marcotte quipped.

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


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