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Articles of 2005

Thrilla in Manila: 30th Anniversary

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It was simply a brutal fight. To call it a boxing match does not capture the essence of the contest or its combatants. This was fighting at its core. It was 14 rounds of fighting at its finest. And, perhaps, at its worst. But for all of the punches that were landed and all of the hatred that oozed inside that ring, it would end with the gentle words of a boxing saint.

“Sit down, son. It's all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.”

Those were the words spoken by Eddie Futch, as he told Joe Frazier the “Thrilla in Manila” was over. Thirty years later, no one has forgotten.

On October 1, 1975, Frazier and Muhammad Ali had given all they could give inside a boxing ring. Except for their lives. Afterward, Ali would say, “It was like death. The closest thing to dying I know.”

In the end, Frazier's eyes were reduced to slits. Blood was smeared across his lips. “But I want him boss,” was Frazier's plea to Futch, as he stood on his feet, waiting to leave the corner for the 15th round.

The round never started. The resumption of war was halted by an act of mercy. Someone had to do it because Ali and Frazier would show no mercy to each other.

Futch informed referee Carlos Padilla that the fight was over and the greatest rivalry in boxing history had come to an end. In the third bout of their epic series, Ali scored a TKO of Frazier to retain the heavyweight title.

There is no shortage of warriors in the sport of boxing. For a century, men have fought with great skill and grim courage. They have pushed their bodies beyond reason and beyond pain.

There may have never been anyone who did it quite like Ali and Frazier. They did it three times, on the grandest of stages, and twice, with the greatest title in all of sports at stake. It was the heavyweight championship of the world. It was the top of the food chain. When men like Ali and Frazier fought as desperately as they did – for 41 rounds in total – it was not about the money. It was about that reservoir of pride that resides somewhere in the belly of all special athletes.

When these men fought, it was as if the rest of the world paused. It was that big of an event. They disappointed no one.

“Their styles were just meant for each other,” said Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee. “It is remarkable. No matter where or when they fought, if you put them together you couldn’t have a bad fight. I think they both brought each other to a higher level. They brought the best out of each other.”

George Benton, a top middleweight from the ‘60s who worked Frazier’s corner for the third Ali fight, considers the “Thrilla in Manila” the greatest title fight in the history of the sport. “These were two warriors in the ring,” he said. “Joe was so determined. He made it very, very difficult for Ali. But you can’t take nothing away from Ali. He was determined too.”

Perhaps the only stain that tarnishes the memory of this great contest is the pre-fight buildup. Ali took the hype to an undesirable level. Today, his actions would be cause for condemnation, but at the time, the media adored Ali and his antics. From the time the fight was announced, the world was reminded by Ali, that, “It’s gonna be a thrilla and a chilla and a killa when I get the gorilla in Manila.”

In the early footage from the press tour, Frazier was seen smiling but he never found Ali’s derisive taunts humorous. It got worse when Ali pulled out a small rubber gorilla and said to Frazier, “I got your conscience with me and I’m gonna keep it right here in my pocket,” and then Ali placed the gorilla in his breast pocket. It seemed each time a camera was rolling, Ali would display the gorilla and, while holding it in his left hand, he’d punch it repeatedly with his right. All the while he’d be shouting, “Come on gorilla, we in Manila. Come on gorilla, this is a thrilla.”

It was this behavior and Ali’s early reference to Frazier as an “Uncle Tom” that fueled Smokin’ Joe’s hatred of the man known simply as “The Greatest.” The other ingredient that made this a great fight was that each man was past his prime. They retained the same warrior’s spirit, but lost speed and reflexes. When that occurs one thing is guaranteed – a lot of punches will land. Ali and Frazier were not as sharp or fast as they were for the classic first bout in 1971. But they were both as determined.

Ali entered the ring a 2-1 favorite. He was 33 years old and weighed 224 1/2 pounds. Frazier was 31 years old and weighed 215½ pounds. They fought in the Manila Coliseum, which was actually located in Quezon City, six miles outside of Manila. There were 28,000 people in attendance, including President Marcos and the First Lady, Imelda. There have been various reports concerning the temperature inside the arena. It has been reported by different sources ranging from 95 to 110 degrees. The humidity was oppressive and, once the arena was filled with people, the air conditioning was useless. It was as if they were fighting in a sauna.

Like all great fights, this one had a classic ebb and flow. Ali started fast and dominated the early rounds. But Frazier rallied and punished the champion through the middle rounds.

In the first minute of round eight, the fighters engaged in a vicious multi-punch exchange, neither man backing off. Frazier closed strong in that round, pinning Ali to the ropes and alternating his hook between the body and head. Boxing technique and strategy disappeared at this point. The suffocating humidity and the nonstop punching were taking its toll on each fighter. “The Thrilla in Manila” had become a battle of wills.

“With the intensity of the fight and the heat, I was concerned about Muhammad,” said Dundee. “But I felt Muhammad was winning the fight. I don’t know how they did it. To fight the way they fought under those conditions is remarkable.”

Although he would absorb a terrible beating in the 11th round, Ali began to march back into the fight. Somehow, the champion emerged from his corner energized for the 12th round. He began pumping rapid combinations at Frazier, who was bleeding from the mouth and began to lose his vision due to the swelling around his eyes. Early in round 13, a right cross by Ali sent Frazier’s mouthpiece flying across the ring. Ali continued to punch in combination as Frazier continued to plod after him. A blistering right-left combination caused Frazier to stumble backward. Somehow, though, he remained on his feet.

The 14th round was dominated by Ali. At the close of the stanza, Padilla helped walk Frazier back to his corner. Then came one of the hardest decisions Eddie Futch ever had to make. In the years before he died, Futch spoke to this writer several times about stopping “The Thrilla Manila.” While he always remained firm in his decision, the disappointment he felt for Frazier drew heavy on his conscience.

“It was a very difficult moment for me,” he said. “But the circumstances made it absolutely necessary. His vision was impaired to the point that he couldn’t avoid Ali’s punches. He couldn’t see them coming. Ali knew this. I started to make my decision to stop the fight in the 13th round after a right hand knocked Joe’s mouthpiece out of his mouth and into the audience. I said to myself, I’ll give him one more round because Ali has got to slow up. He was throwing so many punches. But Ali didn’t slow up.

“I wasn’t going to allow him to take any more punches. Joe was getting hit with so many punches. And all it takes is one to cause some permanent damage. Joe is a great father, a great family man. He’s raised a beautiful family. I wanted to see him enjoy his children and I wanted his children to enjoy him. I didn’t want to see him incapacitated later in life. I wouldn’t allow that. His family hated me for that. One of his daughters came to visit me and she said, “You know, we hated you for stopping that fight. But then we learned more about what you did and why you did it. We love you now because we understand what you did for our father.’’

When the fight ended, Ali collapsed in his corner. Moments later he was helped onto his stool by his cornermen and they frantically waved towels in his face in an attempt to revive him. The competitiveness of the fight was not reflected in the scoring. Ali led on all three scorecards: 8-5-1, 8-2-4 and 9-3-2.

The fight was named “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine and Ali earned “Fighter of the Year” honors from The Ring. In an unprecedented move, the Boxing Writers Association of America named both Ali and Frazier “Fighter of the Year.”

Ali and Frazier would never fight at such a high level again. They had each left a piece of themselves in that ring in Manila.

Futch was only half correct. No one will ever forget what Ali and Frazier did in Manila.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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