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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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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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