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The “FOTC” Not “Manila” Is The Greatest Heavyweight Title Bout Ever

Frank Lotierzo

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On Monday night March 8th 1971, the best catch-n-kill style attacker, “Smokin” Joe Frazier 26-0 (23), met the fastest, flashiest and best moving and most natural boxer to ever grace the heavyweight division, Muhammad Ali 31-0 (25). The bout was appropriately called the “Fight Of The Century.” And for 15 grueling and fast paced rounds the FOTC surely lived up to its billing. As it turned out it was one of those rare super-fights in which the realization exceeded the expectation. And to this day 40 plus years later, Frazier-Ali I is the super-fight by which all super-fights are measured.

Never have two more skilled heavyweights faced each other in the ring for the title while both were at or near their physical prime as was the case for the FOTC. That statement may tweak some fans of Muhammad Ali because he was only five months into his comeback after his forced three and a half year exile due to his refusal to be inducted into the Unites States Army because he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. But I defy anyone to find a single bout of Ali’s pre or post exile where he punched with more combined speed and power, especially during the first five rounds, than he did during the FOTC. Ali was cat-quick and hit with real authority because he had no choice since he had a wrecking machine in front of him by the name of Joe Frazier. Joe forced Ali to fight at a pace and tempo that he hadn’t before ever had to, and Muhammad answered the call.

Since Frazier’s passing last week it’s been often repeated that Joe took part in the greatest heavyweight title bout in history, the “Thrilla In Manila” which was the third and final meeting between he and Ali. And if you conducted a poll among boxing purist as to what was the greatest fight in heavyweight title history, it’s pretty safe to say that Ali-Frazier III (The Thrilla In Manila) would finish at the top of the list. And that’s not easily refuted. That being said, the FOTC was the better fight and is the one you’d show a new boxing fan if you wanted them to fully appreciate what professional boxing looks like at the highest level.

When heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, 33, defended his undisputed title against Joe Frazier, 31, back in the fall of 1975, both greats were on the decline. They were both 10 pounds heavier than they were four years early when they clashed for the first time in New York’s Madison Square Garden. No doubt the “Thrilla In Manila” was a brutal fight that lasted 14 rounds and saw both fighters beat each other to near death. However, in reality it was three fights in one. For the first four or five rounds Ali was in complete control and really shook Joe good, almost putting him down. Then starting around the end of the fifth round and clearly by the beginning of the sixth, Frazier started working Ali over to the head and body with massive lefts hooks and right hands. Joe continued cleaning up on Muhammad until the early part of the 12th round when Ali got what seemed to be his third or fourth second wind.

In rounds 13 and 14 Ali hit Frazier at will and it looked almost like target practice. At the end of the 14th round Joe could barely make it back to his corner. When Joe told trainer Eddie Futch that he couldn’t see Ali’s right hands because of the swelling around his eyes and face, Futch stopped the fight and concluded the greatest rivalry in sports history with the record books documenting Ali as the winner and holding a 2-1 nod over his bitter rival and career nemesis.

As great of a fight as the “Thrilla In Manila” was for its sheer brutality, the fact of the matter is, neither Ali or Frazier had any defensive skills left and couldn’t miss each other. When Muhammad managed to keep Joe on the outside, he was defenseless and was picked apart. Yet once Frazier got inside he punished Ali and was in command. When Ali went on the attack, Frazier clearly got the worst of it, and once Ali needed a breather, Joe took over the fight. During the bout neither fighter was terribly accurate at a time when they both lacked head and upper body movement. And as the bout progressed it looked as though making the opponent miss was something unheard of to them. Both fighters had slowed down significantly since their first fight, but yet still couldn’t get out of the way from the Sunday punches they launched at each other.

Contrast that to the “Fight Of The Century” which was fought at warp speed with both fighters showing brilliant offensive and defensive skills throughout the bout. There were times during FOTC that Ali actually won the inside exchanges just as there were patches of the fight that saw Frazier better Ali from the outside. Also, the punching power and accuracy exhibited by both fighters during the FOTC was superior to that to which was on display in “Manila.”

During the FOTC Ali looked at times as though he was on the verge of taking complete control of the fight, at least during rounds one through 10, only to find himself with his back pinned against the ropes and looking as if he was at the end of the road in the subsequent round. Also during their first fight, Joe made Ali look like an amateur at times due to his bobbing and weaving as he constantly made Ali’s punch down as his left jabs and follow up right hands sailed above or past Joe’s head.

For 10 rounds the fight was contested pretty much evenly. Then with a minute left in the 11th round Frazier nailed Ali with a double left hook to the body and then to the head. The punch hurt Ali so badly that he was falling all over the ring for the rest of the round and appeared to be within a punch or two from Joe finishing him.

Joe’s aggression and determination that night was a thing to behold. He physically forced Ali to raise his game to a level he’d hadn’t ever dreamed of before. And because of the great athlete and super competitor Ali was, he managed to stay in the fight until 24 seconds into the 15th and final round when a desperate Ali was set to throw a right uppercut at the incoming Frazier, only to be beaten to the punch by Frazier’s big left hook that caught him on the point of his chin and dropped him as if he were shot. Ali was up at the count of four, but other than a brief flurry with a minute left in the round, Frazier won the round and sealed the fight in his favor via a unanimous decision.

As for sheer brutality, I suppose the Manila fight gets the nod, but that’s the only advantage you could give it. The “Fight Of The Century” was damn near as brutal, it was fought at a faster pace and also saw each fighter land some of the hardest and most accurate single shots and combinations either ever threw on any night of their career. It also had more drama and suspense and both fighters were great that night. In Manila they exhibited toughness and determination more than anything else.

If you put both fights on a split screen and watched each round together, your eyes would be drawn to the side of the screen that was showing the “FOTC.” And that’s because it was everything the “Thrilla” was and then some. Yes, Joe Frazier did partake in the greatest heavyweight title bout in history, and it’s correctly known as the “Fight Of The Century,” and he won it.

I can’t help but think the reason why the “Thrilla In Manila” is thought of as being a greater fight than the “Fight of The Century” by many fans is because Muhammad Ali won in “Manila” and lost the “Fight Of The Century.” In addition to that, the “Thrilla In Manila” has been shown much more often on TV because ESPN owns the rights to it. Jerry Perenchio owns the rights to the “Fight Of The Century” and it hasn’t been on TV since the summer of 1990.

The “Fight Of The Century” had everything you could ever ask for in a great title bout. The “Thrilla In Manila” was maybe the most brutal and physically taxing heavyweight title fight ever, but for the reasons stated above, it ranks right behind the “Fight Of The Century” on the list of the greatest heavyweight championship bouts of all time.

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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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