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Ali Lost the Biggest Fight Ever and is Perhaps the Greatest Because of It

This past March 8th marked the 47th anniversary of the first fight between Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier, billed as Frazier vs. Ali being that Joe

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Frazier

This past March 8th marked the 47th anniversary of the first fight between Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier, billed as Frazier vs. Ali being that Joe was the recognized champion going into the fight and the undisputed champ after it. Most boxing observers would agree that this was the most anticipated bout in boxing history due to the fighters and the multitude of dynamics in play.

As fighters they were polar opposites. Their boxing styles — Frazier wanting to fight and trade on the inside and Ali being at his best fighting on the outside while using the ring — made for a compelling contrast. To simplify it, one’s strength was the other’s weakness and vice versa. On top of that, both had a rightful claim to the title. Ali hadn’t lost the title in the ring; he was stripped of it because he refused to be drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. And Frazier had convincingly defeated every top heavyweight in the world, excluding Ali. Frazier 26-0 (23) and Ali 31-0 (25) had perfect records and what made it even more dramatic was that it was just about impossible to envision either one losing to the other.

As we know, Frazier knocked Ali down in the 15th round and won a unanimous decision (8-6-1, 9-6, 11-4). On the anniversary I posted some thoughts on social media and exchanged thoughts on the fight with a few friends and colleagues. And to my surprise, I was presented with some views suggesting the fight should’ve been a draw or that, if not for the knockdown, Ali deserved to be the winner.

If you happen to fall into that category, let’s make this perfectly clear – Joe Frazier conclusively defeated Muhammad Ali on March 8th, 1971. Frazier won at least nine of the 15 rounds and under today’s scoring he would’ve been awarded two 2-point rounds, the first being the 11th round when Ali was badly hurt and almost out on his feet and then the last round due to the knockdown. So forget about trying to convince anyone Ali had the better of it. Years later he admitted he lost and doesn’t need his loyal fans fighting Joe Frazier for him 47 years later hoping to win a fight he clearly lost.

Only Muhammad Ali could lose the biggest fight in history and still become “The Greatest”:

And here’s why….

The reality is that losing the first fight to Frazier was the biggest blessing of Ali’s career even though it didn’t seem that way in 1971. What Ali fans fail to realize is that if Ali beat Frazier the first time they met, Joe would’ve been dismissed as being a great champion. The prevailing thought would’ve been that Frazier was good, but only won the title because Ali was removed from the boxing scene. Then it would be asked who did Frazier really beat? The most notable were Buster Mathis, Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry, and Jimmy Ellis and once those fighters were dismissed, Frazier would’ve been dismissed as well. By soundly beating Ali, Frazier proved he was an all-timer and not a caretaker of the title until Ali returned to reclaim it.

If we follow the timeline, 22 months later Olympic gold medalist George Foreman 37-0 (34) mutilates Frazier in two rounds in roughly five minutes of actual combat to become the new undisputed champ. Frazier was established as a great by defeating the undefeated Ali; Foreman after beating Joe was considered one of the most feared heavyweight champs ever and rightfully so. After all, Ali couldn’t do much more than administer a few dents on Frazier in 45 minutes, which pales in comparison to what Foreman did to him. Thus, Ali is now viewed as the third best heavyweight on the scene.

Think of it this way….as of January 1973, Frazier beating Ali is bigger and a more significant win than Ali had posted during his career at the time, and Foreman beating Frazier ranks above any win on Ali’s record considering that Sonny Liston was old and probably threw their rematch. Yes, in 1973 Ali was looking up at both Mr. Frazier and Mr. Foreman!

The March 15th 1971 cover of Sports Illustrated showed Frazier knocking Ali down in the 15th round with the caption…”The End of the Ali Legend!”

Wrong. It was the beginning of the Ali legend!

After losing to Frazier, Ali lost a split decision to sixth ranked Ken Norton in March of 1973 which was the low point of his career. Throughout the years 1960-73 Ali said he was the greatest, but in 1973 that rang hollow. For Ali to be considered one of the greats he had to beat one fighter who presented a style conundrum for him in Norton, another fighter who took away his invincibility in Frazier, and lastly the fighter who destroyed both Frazier and Norton and did it while answering the bell for only 4 rounds. Anything shy of besting all three would question whether Ali was the greatest of his era, let alone the greatest heavyweight in history.

The march to solidifying his legacy began on September 10th, 1973, when Ali exacted revenge on Norton by winning a hard-fought 12-round split decision to even their series at 1-1. Four months later, in January of 1974, he returns the favor and defeats Frazier via another hard-fought 12-round decision, this one unanimous, leaving no doubt he was the better man that night. However, he still hasn’t reclaimed the title he was stripped of seven years earlier. It was now held by big and bad George Foreman 40-0 (37).

Prior to their fight, Foreman was thought to be unbeatable. He was a 3-1 favorite over Ali on the night of October 30, 1974, and some feared Foreman would not only beat Ali but it was possible he could permanently injure him. But once again, when his back was to the wall and legacies were on the line, Ali sucked it up. He re-introduced the rope-a-dope strategy that failed against Frazier the first time they fought and this time it worked. Taking liberties with Foreman as the fight progressed, Ali scored the signature victory of his career, winning by an eighth round knockout to become only the second fighter in history (after Floyd Patterson) to lose the heavyweight title and then regain it.

Now as champ Ali had two old rivals in line to take the title away from him, the only two fighters to ever defeat him in Frazier and Norton. Ali faced Frazier in September of 1975 and not only was his title on the line but so also was his legacy. Going into the fight both Ali and Joe were aware that whoever won the rubber match would also be viewed historically as the greater fighter. In what was probably the most grueling heavyweight title fight ever, Ali emerged as the victor when Frazier, due to his lumped-up and swelling face , couldn’t see and was restrained by trainer Eddie Futch from coming out for the 15th round. Thus, Ali keeps the title and takes the series with his all-time great rival Joe Frazier.

To ice the cake Ali defends the title against Ken Norton in September of 1976. Ali wins a controversial unanimous decision and goes up 2-1 over Norton who probably troubled Ali more than any other opponent he ever fought, stylistically. (As a side note, I attended this fight and scored it 8-7 Ali. I’ve re-watched it several times since and my consensus score is 9-6 Ali).

Yes, Muhammad Ali lost the biggest and most celebrated fight in boxing history. That loss confirmed Frazier’s greatness. Frazier subsequently lost the title to George Foreman. Destroying Frazier so clearly gave George his bona-fides as maybe the most feared and hardest puncher ever. Thus giving Ali two great foes that he had to beat conclusively and he did by stopping Foreman in 1974 and Frazier in 1975. If Frazier and Foreman weren’t established greats when Ali defeated them, then it would be said he really didn’t beat any special fighters, as was said of Ali during the sixties.

The fact of the matter is that losing to Frazier was the launch for Ali to build his legacy as the world’s most recognized athlete and as the greatest heavyweight ever. So if you’re a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, accept and admit he lost the first time he fought Frazier; on that there can be no doubt. But it really all worked out well for him because by the time he retired he proved that he was a greater fighter than both Foreman and Frazier. No, Muhammad Ali doesn’t need anyone continuing his battle with “Smokin” Joe in trying to justify a fight he lost, because Ali took care of business himself in the ring when it mattered most and probably wouldn’t even want to be part of the conversation in which he is credited for something he hadn’t earned.

Muhammad Ali is the last fighter in history who needs his admirers fighting an unwinnable fight on his behalf trying to convince other fans that he really won the “Fight of The Century” simply because he overcame it with what he achieved in the subsequent years…….and his legacy thrives forever in spite of being the loser of the biggest fight in boxing history!

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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