Wednesday, 9 November 2011

When boxing was on the front page, this was it

Liver cancer KOs boxing titan Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier lands a left on Muhammad Ali during their heavyweight title bout in March, 1971, in New York. Frazier won a unanimous decision. Source: AP

Joe Frazier once said he wanted to outlive the man with whom he will forever be linked.

But while Muhammad Ali, 69, lives on, Frazier yesterday died at 67 after a battle with liver cancer.
The two-time world heavyweight champion, who started life as a share-cropper's son growing up in South Carolina and punched meat in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse long before Rocky, lived most of his life in Ali's shadow despite being the first boxer to beat him. "I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration," Ali said in a statement. "My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."

The pair battled it out in a famed 1970s trilogy of bouts, including the epic "Thriller in Manila" on October 1, 1975, in Quezon City in The Philippines. Ali biographer Thomas Hauser wrote that the two were "fighting for the heavyweight championship of each other".

Frazier won the first of those three match-ups, the "Fight of the Century" on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, punctuating his 15-round win by flooring Ali with a leaping left hook. "That was, and still is, the biggest sporting event of all time," said Joe Hand Sr, an investor in the corporation that backed Frazier. "There's nothing that compares to the drama and excitement of that night.

Burt Lancaster, the movie star, was a colour announcer for the telecast. Frank Sinatra was taking photos for Life magazine." An estimated 300 million people around the world watched the fight on TV. "There was never a doubt in any of our minds that Joe would win," Hand said. "For him to lose, you'd have had to stab him or shoot him ... all that anger he'd built up from Ali's insults. Ali might have been the best fighter, but Joe had the biggest heart."

That anger began to subside only recently, when Frazier's hard feelings about Ali calling him "ignorant", "a gorilla" and an "Uncle Tom" softened. After winning gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics - beating Australia's Athol McQueen along the way - Frazier won the WBC and WBA heavyweight titles in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in the fifth at Madison Square Garden. Frazier and Ellis would fight again at Melbourne's Junction Oval in 1975, with Frazier winning in nine rounds and earning him the Manila shot at Ali, who had defeated George Foreman in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle".

Frazier defended the title four times before running into the bigger and stronger Foreman in 1973. Jack Hirsch, the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, recalled last year that Frazier had confided what was already an open secret. "Joe always made a point that he was going to outlive Ali," Hirsch said. "But I guess it's like the 'Thriller in Manila'. Joe fought his heart out, but came out one round short."

In recent years, Frazier turned to singing, forming a back-up group called the Knockouts.
On that night in The Philippines in 1974, Frazier, both his eyes nearly swollen shut, was not allowed to come out for the final round by trainer Eddie Futch, who told him, "Son, no one will forget what you did here today." And no one did.

                            ________________    |    _______________

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.