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Remembering Joe Frazier

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FrazierJoe 6-19-73aI’ve been thinking a lot lately about Joe Frazier as the first anniversary of his death (November 7, 2011) approaches.

I met Joe at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas on December 1, 1988. I’d just signed a contract to become Muhammad Ali’s official biographer. Two days of taping were underway for a documentary entitled Champions Forever that featured Ali, Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and Larry Holmes. I was there to conduct interviews for my book.

On the first morning, I sat at length with Foreman; the pre-lean-mean-grilling-machine model. George was twenty months into a comeback that was widely regarded as a joke. Six more years would pass before he knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the heavyweight throne.

“There was a time in my life when I was sort of unfriendly,” George told me. “Zaire was part of that period. I was going to knock Ali’s block off, and the thought of doing it didn’t bother me at all. After the fight, for a while I was bitter. I had all sorts of excuses. The ring ropes were loose. The referee counted too fast. The cut hurt my training. I was drugged. I should have just said the best man won, but I’d never lost before so I didn’t know how to lose. I fought that fight over in my head a thousand times. Then, finally, I realized I’d lost to a great champion; probably the greatest of all time. Now I’m just proud to be part of the Ali legend. If people mention my name with his from time to time, that’s enough for me. That, and I hope Muhammad likes me, because I like him. I like him a lot.”

Then I moved on to Ken Norton, who shared a poignant memory.

“When it counted most,” Norton reminisced, “Ali was there for me. In 1986, I was in a bad car accident. I was unconscious for I don’t know how long. My right side was paralyzed; my skull was fractured; I had a broken leg, a broken jaw. The doctors said I might never walk again. For a while, they thought I might not ever even be able to talk. I don’t remember much about my first few months in the hospital. But one thing I do remember is, after I was hurt, Ali was one of the first people to visit me. At that point, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to live or die. That’s how bad I was hurt. Like I said, there’s a lot I don’t remember. But I remember looking up, and there was this crazy man standing by my bed. It was Ali, and he was doing magic tricks for me. He made a handkerchief disappear; he levitated. I said to myself, if he does one more awful trick, I’m gonna get well just so I can kill him. But Ali was there, and his being there helped me. So I don’t want to be remembered as the man who broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw. I just want to be remembered as a man who fought three close competitive fights with Ali and became his friend when the fighting was over.”

Larry Holmes held out for cash, so our conversation was short: “I’m proud I learned my craft from Ali,” Larry said. “I’m prouder of sparring with him when he was young than I am of beating him when he was old.”

End of conversation.

That left Joe.

Frazier wouldn’t talk with me because I was “Ali’s man.” But at an evening party after the second day of taping, Joe approached me. He’d been drinking. And the vile spewed out:

“I hated Ali. God might not like me talking that way, but it’s in my heart. First two fights, he tried to make me a white man. Then he tried to make me a nigger. How would you like it if your kids came home from school crying because everyone was calling their daddy a gorilla? God made us all the way we are. He made us the way we talk and look. And the way I feel, I’d like to fight Ali-Clay-whatever-his-name-is again tomorrow. Twenty years, I’ve been fighting Ali, and I still want to take him apart piece by piece and send him back to Jesus.”

Joe saw that I was writing down every word. This was a message he wanted the world to hear.

“I didn’t ask no favors of him, and he didn’t ask none of me. He shook me in Manila; he won. But I sent him home worse than he came. Look at him now. He’s damaged goods. I know it; you know it. Everyone knows it; they just don’t want to say. He was always making fun of me. I’m the dummy; I’m the one getting hit in the head. Tell me now; him or me, which one talks worse now? He can’t talk no more, and he still tries to make noise. He still wants you to think he’s the greatest, and he ain’t. I don’t care how the world looks at him. I see him different, and I know him better than anyone. Manila really don’t matter no more. He’s finished, and I’m still here.”

Twenty-one months later, when I finished writing Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, I journeyed to Ali’s home in Berrian Springs, Michigan. Lonnie Ali (Muhammad’s wife), Howard Bingham (Ali’s longtime friend and personal photographer), and I spent a week reading every word of the manuscript aloud. By agreement, there would be no censorship. Our purpose in reading was to ensure the factually accuracy of the book.

In due course, Lonnie read Frazier’s quote aloud.

There was a silent moment.

“Did you hear that, Muhammad?” Lonnie asked.

Ali nodded.

“How do you feel, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people will read that?”

“It's what he said,” Muhammad answered.

Ali’s thoughts ended that chapter of the book.

“I’m sorry Joe Frazier is mad at me. I’m sorry I hurt him. Joe Frazier is a good man. I couldn’t have done what I did without him, and he couldn’t have done what he did without me. And if God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me.”

On the final day of our reading, Muhammad, Lonnie, Howard, and I signed a pair of boxing gloves to commemorate the experience. I took one of the gloves home with me. Howard took the other.

The following spring, I was in Philadelphia for a black-tie gala celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the historic first fight between Ali and Frazier. This was Joe’s night. It was a fight he’d won. But his hatred for all things Ali was palpable.

Early in the evening, Howard suggested that I pose for a photo with Muhammad and Joe. I stood between them. Joe wrapped his arm around my waist in what I thought was a gesture of friendship. Then, just as Howard snapped the photo, Joe dug his fingers into the flesh beneath my ribs.

It hurt like hell.

I tried to pry his hand away.

You try prying Joe Frazier’s hand away.

When Joe was satisfied that he’d inflicted sufficient pain, he smirked at me and walked off.

Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times was published in June 1991. Joe decided that I’d treated him fairly. In the years that followed, when our paths crossed, he was warm and friendly. A ritual greeting evolved between us.

Joe would smile and say, “Hey! How’s my Jewish friend?”

I’d smile and say, “Hey! How’s my Baptist friend?”

Fast-forward to January 7, 2005. Joe was in my home. We were eating ice cream in the kitchen.

Three boxing gloves were hanging on the wall. The first two were worn by Billy Costello in his victorious championship fight against Saoul Mamby. That fight has special meaning to me. It’s the subject of the climactic chapter in The Black Lights, my first book about boxing.

The other glove bore the legend:

                                    Muhammad Ali

                                    Lonnie Ali

                                    Howard L. Bingham

                                    Thomas Hauser

                                    9/10 – 9/17/90

Joe asked about the gloves. I explained their provenance. Then he said something that surprised me.

“Do you remember that time I gave you the claw?”

“I remember,” I said grimly.

“I’m sorry, man. I apologize.”

That was Joe Frazier. He remembered every hurt that anyone ever inflicted upon him. With regard to Ali, he carried those hurts like broken glass in his stomach for his entire life.

But Joe also remembered the hurts he’d inflicted on other people. And if he felt he’d done wrong, given time he would try to right the situation.

There’s now a fourth glove hanging on the wall of my kitchen. It bears the inscription:

                                    Tom, to my man

                                    Right on

                                    Joe Frazier

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (And the New: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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U.K. Boxing Update: Gorman, Bowen, Edwards, Quigley, and More

Arne K. Lang

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For the second time in the last three months, Great Britain’s top promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren went head-to-head with dueling fight cards in England. When this last happened, back on Dec. 22, Warren had the stronger card from top to bottom, but Hearn’s show had the more compelling main event, namely the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora. Today the roles were somewhat reversed. Hearn’s show had the stronger undercard, but the fighter attracting the most eyeballs, undefeated heavyweight Nathan Gorman, is promoted by Warren.

Leicester / Queensberry (Frank Warren) Promotion

In a predictably desultory affair, Nathan Gorman (16-0, 11 KOs) outpointed Kevin Johnson (34-13-1). This being a 10-rounder, the referee was the sole arbiter and he gave every round to Gorman, a distant cousin of Tyson Fury.

Kevin Johnson, a pro since 2003, took Vitali Klitschko the distance in 2009 and Tyson Fury the distance in 2012 and more recently went the full route with Daniel Dubois and Filip Hrogivic, but he won scarcely a round in those fights and in recent years has degenerated from a journeyman into a trial horse. He came into the fight 20 pounds heavier than in his last start 13 weeks ago and fought to survive, allowing Gorman to initiate what action there was.

Frank Warren can’t be blamed for promoting this snoozer. Johnson was a late replacement for Fabio Maldonado, a Brazilian who, although something of a mystery, was expected to provide Gorman with a sterner test. But Maldonado reneged after getting a better offer and will now fight Oleksandr Teslenko in Toronto next week.

The 22-year-old Gorman, who carried 253 pounds on his six-foot-three frame, is very light on his feet and some expect him to out-box his harder punching countryman Daniel Dubois when they eventually meet.

In the featured bout, Sam Bowen, a Leicestershire man, retained his British 130-pound title with a ninth round stoppage of Scotland’s Jordan McCorry. Bowen improved to 15-0 with his 10th stoppage.

London / Copper Box / Matchroom (Eddie Hearn) Promotion

In the main event of Hearn’s card, baby-faced Charlie Edwards (pictured on the left) put on a clinic in the first defense of the WBC world flyweight title he won with an upset of Cristofer Rosales. Edwards (15-1, 6 KOs) won every round over determined but outclassed Angel Moreno (19-3-2), a 35-year-old Spaniard and former sparring partner. Edwards scored a flash knockdown with a counter right hand in round six. All three judges had it 120-107.

Irish middleweight Jason Quigley, who signed with Golden Boy coming out of the amateur ranks and had fought exclusively in the United States, improved to 16-0 (12) with a second round stoppage of Mathias Eklund (10-2-2). Eklund was on his feet, but the ref thought it wise to keep the overmatched Finn from taking more punishment after Quigley blistered him with a series of unanswered punches. Quigley’s dream fight would be a match in Ireland with stablemate Canelo Alvarez.

Joshua Buatsi, an emerging star in the light heavyweight division, chopped down Liam Conroy to win the vacant BBBofC 175-pound title. Buatsi had taken out his last three opponents in the opening round but Conroy, who came into the match riding a nine-fight winning streak, lasted into the third. Buatsi, a Londoner born in Ghana and a bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, improved to 10-0 (8). Conroy, who was on the deck twice, fell to 16-4-1.

Conroy’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirms that Buatsi’s next fight is likely to take place at Madison Square Garden on June 1 underneath Joshua-Miller.

In a cruiserweight fight with British and Commonwealth titles at stake, Lawrence Okolie improved to 12-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Wadi Camacho (21-8). Okolie knocked Camacho to his knees with a hard combination and finished him off with a big right hand.

The most inexperienced British boxer to ever compete in the Olympics, the rangy six-foot-five Okolie has sparred with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury and will almost assuredly compete as a heavyweight when he grows into his body.

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Meet Tom Schwarz, Tyson Fury’s Next Opponent

Arne K. Lang

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Fury vs Schwarz

Someone can’t keep a secret.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum said he would not reveal Tyson Fury’s next opponent until tomorrow (Saturday, March 23) when he would “unseal the envelope” during the ESPN telecast of his show from the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA. But, as the saying goes, the cat is out of the bag. Multiple sources, including ESPN’s Dan Rafael, are reporting that Fury will fight Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas on June 15, likely at the MGM Grand although other Las Vegas venues are in the running.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. By choosing Schwarz over a rematch with Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury’s reputation in the court of public opinion has taken a big tumble. “Tyson Fury fight with bum Tom Schwarz makes mockery of Gypsy King’s big claims and is bad news for fans,” reads the headline in the online edition of the infamous (but widely read) London Sun. “It’s yet another blow for boxing fans; the paying public is being shortchanged due to a current TV bidding war,” reads the article by the un-bylined author.

Bob Arum and his comrades at ESPN are facing a lot of damage control. We’ll give them a booster shot by saying that Tom Schwarz, a 24-year-old German who customarily carries 240 pounds on a six-foot-five-and-a-half frame, isn’t too shabby.

Here’s the negatives; let’s get them out of the way.

Although undefeated in 24 fights with 16 knockouts, Schwarz has defeated no one of note. The folks at BoxRec are so unimpressed with his strength of schedule that they rate him 41st among heavyweights which, for reference purposes, is 35 slots below Anthony Joshua’s next opponent Jarrell Miller and 31 places below Deontay Wilder’s next opponent, Dominic Breazeale.

Schwarz has had the home field advantage in most of his fights. He’s fought only twice outside Germany and he didn’t venture very far. Six of his fights, including his match with Kristijan Krstacic earlier this month, were in Magdeburg, his hometown.

But there are some plusses that a PR man can seize upon. Although records in professional boxing are notoriously deceiving, it seems relevant that Schwarz’s last six opponents are a combined 84-5-1. He hasn’t fought a real tomato can since October of 2014 when he met Tomas Mrazek, a fellow whose current record shows only 10 wins in 86 fights.

Schwarz’s fight with Krstacic can be found on YouTube. One can’t learn much from it as Krystacic, a 38-year-old Croatian, was outweighed by 31 pounds, but one could see that Schwarz has good fundamentals. He landed some good body shots in the opening round and then clubbed his man into submission in the next stanza, scoring three knockdowns.

German heavyweights, in the main, have performed poorly on American soil although it’s worth noting that many ringsiders thought Axel Schulz deserved the nod when he fought George Foreman at the MGM Grand in April of 1995. Foreman won a majority decision and then relinquished his IBF belt rather than give Schulz a rematch.

If Tom Schwarz is looking for inspiration, he should summon the 1936 ghost of Max Schmeling who was a big underdog when he knocked out the seemingly indestructible Joe Louis. That was a non-title fight, by the way, as will be true of Schwarz’s fight with Tyson Fury unless one of the four major sanctioning bodies creates a hole for it by declaring their title vacant. And as for that possibility, don’t bet against it.

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A Night of Upsets on the Golden Boy Card in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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upsets

HOLLYWOOD-A night of upsets awaited those driving to Hollywood in the angry storm on Thursday night. No one survived unscathed in the film and music capital of the world.

Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) tasted defeat against Juan Antonio Rodriguez (30-7, 26 KOs) by technical knockout in their lightweight clash that was the main event at the Avalon Theater. The likeable Filipino southpaw was world ranked in the top position by one organization.

Few expected Rodriguez to battle Gesta on even terms, especially with his multiple losses, but those who had seen him perform before knew he could punch and knew he could take a punch.

It was a battle of chins and a battle between southpaws.

Rodriguez absorbed heavy blows from Gesta and at times seemed ready to surrender. But somehow he would return fire and the heavy blows continued to rain from both lefthanders.

Gesta had the speed advantage but was unable to use it effectively. For eight rounds the two blasted each other with impunity but never reckless.

Finally, in the ninth round, as Gesta decided to hit and move, Rodriguez timed one of the blows coming in and delivered an overhand left cross that staggered the former world title challenger. Rodriguez immediately sensed the moment was ripe and unloaded strategic blows on Gesta who was out-punched 20 to 2 in the last 15 seconds. Referee Zachary Young stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

A shaky Gesta walked back to his corner.

“He was there all the time so I went to the body,” said Rodriguez. “He just stopped punching.”

The classy Gesta was generous even in defeat.

“It was a good fight,” said Gesta who is trained by Freddie Roach. “The guy was tough. He fought hard. No excuses from me…I’m a fighter, and I love challenges.”

Undefeated Welterweights

Las Vegas fighter Blair Cobb (10-0-1, 6 KOs) won the battle of undefeated welterweights by unanimous decision after eight bloody rounds with local hero Ferdinand Kerobyan (11-1, 6 KOs). The win gave Cobb (pictured) the Junior NABA title.

Kerobyan, a North Hollywood native, brought hundreds of fans to the historic Avalon Theater and cheers went up when he first arrived to the boxing ring.

Cobb, who fights out of Las Vegas but is originally from Philadelphia, arrived with his small contingent including former world champion Clarence “Bones” Adams in his corner and used his reach and speed to deliver some heavy blows early in the fight. During one of the exchanges in the first round a gash emerged above the right eye of Kerobyan. From that point on it was an uphill battle for the Armenian-American fighter. But he never quit.

After eight back and forth rounds the judges scored the fight 77-75 twice and 79-73 for Cobb.

“I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there. He was very tough, but I showed I was the superior fighter,” said Cobb. “He was a phenomenal fighter. I expected the fight to be easy.”

Featherweights

A featherweight clash between Manuel “Tito” Avila (23-1-1) and Mexico’s Jose Gonzalez (23-7-1) ended in a split draw after eight rounds of clinching. It was Northern California’s Avila’s second fight since losing to Jojo Diaz last year in Las Vegas. The bullish rushes by Gonzalez especially with his head seemed to bother Avila. After eight rounds all three judges saw it differently 77-75 for Avila, 77-75 for Gonzalez and 76-76 a split draw.

Other Bouts

You can never tell by someone’s physique who’s going to win. Muscular heavyweight James “The Beast” Wilson (7-0-1, 6 KOs) met blown up doughboy Miguel Cubos (13-20-1, 10 KOs) in what looked to be a mismatch. Even to Wilson it must have seem like easy pickings, but when he unloaded his barrage of heavy blows and could not land a damaging blow in the first round it became apparent the flabby Mexican foe from San Luis Potosi could apparently box. And he did it very well.

Wilson was determined to get the knockout especially after Cubos began taunting him with raised arms after landing his own blows. But it became apparent it was not going to happen and Wilson’s corner must have warned him not to blow his gas tank. From the third round on it was a strategic battle of wits and big blows that missed. And each time Cubos would raise his both arms a la Manny Pacquiao. The crowd cheered every time.

After six back and forth rounds of action from the two physically different heavyweights the judges scored it a majority draw with tallies of 58-56 for Wilson and two others 57-57 even.

Super lightweight David Mijares (7-0, 3 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Puerto Rico’s Antonio Sanchez (6-6-2, 3 KOs) after six rounds. Mijares was the more technically adept fighter and used his southpaw stance effectively against Sanchez. The Puerto Rican fighter had his moments especially with the right cross down the pipe. Neither fighter was ever hurt and Mijares won by scores 60-54 three times.

Oscar Acevedo (5-0) defeated tough Daniel Bastien (6-6-2) by decision after four rounds in a lightweight contest. Acevedo used his jabs and sharp combinations to keep the always aggressive Bastien from over running him. Both traded evenly especially in the last two rounds with Acevedo losing ground to Bastien. But not enough to convince the judges. The scores were 40-38, and 39-37 twice for Acevedo.

In a fight featuring a huge height disparity Chicago’s Chris Ousley (10-0, 9 KOs) took care of business against the much smaller Jorge Munguia(13-15, 5 KOs) in the first round by knockout in a super middleweight match. The first stiff jab by Ousley rocked Munguia who tried to hide behind a peek-a-boo defense to no avail. Ousley tore that defense apart with ease. A three-punch combination capped by a right uppercut sent the Honduran fighter to one knee. He beat the count but was battered by Ousley until referee Zachary Young ended it at 1:54 of the first round.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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