Smokin' Joe Frazier's Death Evokes Memories of Big Apple Showdown With Ali

Categories: Sports

It was late Janary 1974, and I took a train from Connecticut to New York City for the rematch between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. I had no idea how or if I was going to get into Madison Square Garden for the fight--but I was determined to give it my best shot.

joe frazier.jpg
One of sport's greatest rivalries.

‚ÄčI was a huge Ali fan, and had been next to heartbroken when Frazier upended my guy by a unanimous decision a few years earlier in the "Fight of the Century," also at the Garden.

The battle lines in those days transcended the ring:

Ali was the hero who had bucked the "system" and lost three years of prime-of-his-career fighting because he'd refused induction into the U.S. Army ("I got nothing against them Viet Cong") on conscientious objector grounds.

Frazier was the grunt from Philly, who lacked the verbal finesse and good looks of his adversary. He was blue-collar, all rough edges, where Ali (who actually also came from humble beginnings) seemed sleek and slick and hip.

 

 

The second of what would be a three-fight trilogy between the two warriors actually was something of an afterthought.

Neither man held a title at the time, with Frazier having lost his throne and previously unblemished record to a younger and stronger fellow named George Foreman, who in early 1974 seemed totally unbeatable.

But the Ali/Frazier matchup still held a great allure, with Ali finally having the chance to exact revenge for his still-painful defeat of March 8, 1971.

I got in with more than a bit of good luck on my side.

I was standing near the will-call window wondering which mid-Manhattan bar I was going to find to watch the fight when a well-dressed older man approached me--a not-so well-dressed younger man.

You got a ticket? he asked me.

No, sir, I replied.

Here.

That was it.

I thought I'd be sitting next to him, and wondered what was going to happen next, but decided to cross that bridge when I came to it.

The seat was a beauty, in the lower bowl about 50 feet behind Ali's corner. I still have the ticket stub somewhere.

As was my custom, I snuck down almost to ringside for the fighter's introductions before security finally shooed me away.

A distinct memory: Ali looked so damned big compared to the short, but very solid Frazier. Archival footage only hints at the size difference.

It was an excellent fight, lots of strategy and mutual respect, a 12-round war in which every last second was highly contested.

I thought Ali won by a narrow margin, and so did the judges.

I left the Garden that night, and made my way by foot back to Grand Central Station to catch a late-night train back to New Haven.

I was pumped to have been there, and I remember thinking that Ali had all he could handle with Frazier and I was hoping they didn't fight anymore.

But they did, on September 30, 1975, in Manila, in a title fight for the ages made possible after Ali pulled the huge upset knockout of Foreman in Zaire later in 1974.

Unfortunately, the Thrilla in Manila basically did in both men, who never were the same in and out of the ring after that terrible and thrilling night (saw it on closed-circuit TV in Tucson).

All this and other thoughts come to mind with the passing yesterday of Mr. Frazier, one of boxing's true all-time greats.

 

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