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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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Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

David A. Avila

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Philly is on the up. Again.

Jaron “Boots” Ennis kicked his stature into another gear with an impressive knockout of former world champion Sergey Lipinets on Saturday.

“It’s on the up now for bigger and better fights,” said Ennis.

Those Philly fighters know how to do it.

Before a small audience Philadelphia’s Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs) showed that he’s ready for the elite level class by dominating the always tough Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Is there any other American welter looking for action?

Ennis walked into the arena with all of the physical advantages, but experience can be a tricky matter in the fight game. Lipinets was ready to provide the lesson.

For the first two rounds Ennis used his superior reach, height and speed to keep the former super lightweight world titlist from entering his domain. The Philly fighter wacked at the Russian fighter’s body and head while taking minimal return fire.

Lipinets finally found his way inside and both fighters traded big blows. A wicked right uppercut by Ennis connected and Lipinets bounced a right cross on the Philly fighter. Both absorbed the big blows with little effect.

Still, Ennis was winning all of the rounds and Lipinets realized that maintaining the status quo was not doing him any good. He increased his attack and slipped on Ennis foot and went down. It was incorrectly ruled a knockdown by the referee but it was the least of the Russian fighter’s problems.

Both fighters attacked the body but Lipinets shot one far below the belt and the fight was stopped for a moment. Lipinets was warned. Both went into attack inside and it seemed to be Lipinets best round. He seemed to find his way back into a groove.

“I saw he wasn’t as skilled on the inside as I was so that’s when I started getting a little closer,” Ennis said.

Ennis may have realized that Lipinets had a good round and he wasn’t about to allow another. As the two fighters re-engaged in their war inside, Ennis connected with a right hook to the chin and a left uppercut finished the job. Down went Lipinets and referee Arthur Mercante waved off the fight at 2:11 of the sixth round without a count.

“We worked on a lot of power shots and a lot of speed. That’s what we did,” said Ennis. “Everything is all natural.”

The impressive knockout of Lipinets proved that Ennis has more than enough ability to hang with the best welterweights around.

“Maybe one of the guys will want to fight me. Who knows?”, said Ennis.

Other Bouts

IBF super flyweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs) floored Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriquez (22-2, 16 KOs) and hammered out a win by unanimous decision. But it wasn’t an easy fight. It never is when you put the Philippines versus Mexico.

Ancajas needed the win to keep his name handy for a possible match in the now heated super flyweight division that features Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, and Carlos Cuadras.

A battle between welterweight contenders saw Eimantis Stanionis (13-0) power his way to a unanimous decision win after 12 rounds versus Thomas Dulorme (25-5-1).

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Fast Results from Tulsa: Joe Smith Jr Nips Vlasov, Wins WBO Title

Arne K. Lang

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Joe Smith Jr had to dig down deep to upend Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov, but pulled the fight out of the fire with a late rally to capture the vacant WBO light heavyweight title before a sold-out crowd of 500 masked-up fight fans at Tulsa’s Osage Casino. Smith prevailed by a majority decision. One of the judges had it a draw (114-114), but he was overruled by his cohorts who each turned in tallies of 115-113.

Smith, the quintessential blue-collar fighter, suffered a cut above his left eye in the first round and it troubled him throughout. Vlasov fought a smart fight, out-working the more one-dimensional Smith in most of the rounds, but a cut inside his mouth and Smith’s body punches eventually took their toll. Smith had a strong seventh round but Vlasov recaptured the lead only to let it slip away in a good action fight. There were no knockdowns, but Vlasov went down in the 11th from a punch that landed behind his head, an illegal punch, hence no knockdown.

Smith Jr improved to 27-3 and earned a date with WBC/IBF champion Artur Beterbiev. Vlasov, whose effort commanded a rematch that won’t happen — at least not any time soon — falls to 45-4. All four of the Russian’s losses have come on U.S. soil, two right here in Tulsa where Vlasov was out-pointed by future world title challenger Isaac Chilemba way back in 2011.

The were nine bouts in all the card, the majority of which were intended to showcase up-and-coming heavyweights. The result was a predictable slew of quick stoppages, resulting in plenty of dead time between bouts.

The match between Efe Ajagba and Brian Howard was packaged as the co-feature. Ajagba had been less than impressive in some of his recent starts, but tonight the 6-foot-6 former Olympian for Nigeria scored a devastating one-punch knockout to restore whatever luster he may have lost. The lightning bolt came at the 1:29 mark of round three. Howard was unconscious before he hit the canvas. Ajagba advanced to 15-0 with his 12th knockout. Howard declined to 15-5.

Other Bouts

In the last of the seven preliminary fights on ESPN’s subscription channel, Jared Anderson improved to 9-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of West Virginia southpaw Jeremiah Karpency. The gifted 21-year-old Anderson, from Toledo, Ohio, scored two knockdowns with hard body shots before the bout was halted after only 38 seconds of the second round. The grossly overmatched Karpency was 16-2-1 heading in.

Local fan favorite Trey Lippe Morrison advanced his record to 17-0 with his 17th knockout, stopping 36-year-old Alabama journeyman Jason Bergman (27-20-2) in the third frame. Bergman came to fight and actually scored a knockdown in the opening round that the ref erroneously called a push. Fighting with his back against the ropes, Bergman landed a left that knocked Morrison off his pins.

It was a quirky knockout, coming at the 1:27 mark of round three when Bergman rolled his ankle while throwing an errant punch. He fell to the canvas in obvious pain and the bout was stopped. Bergman had lost seven of his last nine coming in, but was meeting an undefeated opponent for the fifth straight time.

Tulsa native Jeremiah Milton (3-0, 3 KOs) had a successful homecoming, bombing out Mississippi’s Jayvone Dafney in the first round. An overhand right by Milton left Dafney out on his feet with his back pinned against the ropes. Milton, realizing that his opponent was seriously hurt, held back, waiting for the referee to intervene. The time was 1:19.

In the ESPN+ opener, Philadelphia’s Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) returned after a 15-month absence and dismissed paunchy Waldo Cortes in the opening round. Conto put Cortes (6-4) down for the 10-count with a perfectly placed right hand. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Conor Benn Embarrasses His Detractors, Demolishes Vargas in 80 Seconds

Arne K. Lang

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Conor Benn fought Samuel Vargas in London today (Saturday, April 10). Although Benn was a solid favorite, he was stepping up in class. Vargas, a 31-year-old Canadian via Columbia, brought a 31-6-2 record. He had been in with the likes of Errol Spence Jr and Danny Garcia and had extended Amir Khan 12 rounds on Khan’s turf in Manchester.

Vargas’s best days were behind him , but the prevailing sentiment was that he would make it interesting, likely taking the fight into the late rounds and perhaps lasting the distance. So much for prevailing sentiment. Benn walked right through him. Vargas couldn’t cope with Benn’s superior speed. He was being battered against the ropes and offering nothing in return when referee Michael Alexander stepped in and waived it off. It was all over in 80 seconds. Benn improved to 18-0 with his 12th win inside the distance.

Benn, 24, is the son of Nigel Benn, a former two-division world champion who was one of England’s most celebrated fighters. Conor had a brief amateur career in Australia before turning pro at age 19 in London, the city of his birth. While his record is unblemished, it would be incorrect to say that he passed every test as he was climbing the ladder. His first fight with Cedric Peynaud, a marginally skilled Frenchman, has haunted him.

Benn was knocked down twice in the opening round, but scored two knockdowns of his own late in the 6-round fight and was awarded the decision. Peynaud brought a 5-4-3 record and to say that Conor’s performance was underwhelming would be an understatement. At the finish, his right eye was badly swollen.

Scott Gilfoid offered up the most damning criticism: “To say that Benn looked poor tonight is being kind. He was absolutely horrible….The flaws that I saw in Benn’s game tonight are ones that likely won’t go away anytime soon….His performance has to be viewed as a warning sign that he’s not destined to go far in the sport like his famous father.”

Benn and Peynaud fought on Dec. 13, 2017. This was Benn’s 12th pro fight. He had one more bout under his belt before he and the Frenchman had another go at it. The rematch, scheduled for 10 rounds, took place on July 28, 2018, on a show headlined by the heavyweight match between Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker.

Benn knocked Peynaud down three times but couldn’t finish him. However, the outcome was never in doubt. He won by scores of 98-90 and 98-91 twice.

Trevor McIntyre, a stablemate of the aforementioned Scott Gilfoid (rumor has it that Gilfoid and McIntyre are the same person, and that both are aliases of the owner of the web site where their bylines appear) conceded that Benn showed improvement, but was otherwise unimpressed: “(He) still looked like someone that would be blown away by a halfway decent journeyman fighter….Benn’s defense was leaky, his hand speed slow, and his movements looked uncoordinated throughout.”

Benn’s most recent fight before tonight came against Sebastian Formella, a sturdy but feather-fisted German who was coming off a 12-round defeat to Shawn Porter, a bout in which he showed great heart but won nary a round. Benn won lopsidedly. The scorecards read 100-91, 99-91, and 98-92.

The mysterious Barry Holbrook, whose byline appears at the same web site as Gilfoid and McIntyre, acknowledged that Benn proved some of his doubters wrong, but wrote that “a top welterweight like Errol Spence, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Terence Crawford, or Vergil Ortiz Jr would have knocked him out. If they didn’t score a knockout, they would have battered him to the point where the referee would have needed to stop it.”

The respected British scribe Ron Lewis offered a different take: “(Conor) looked a completely changed fighter from the wild youngster of his early professional career, switching well from head to body, being patient, and picking his spots well.” Lewis did not speculate how Benn would have fared against some of the division’s top guns, but certainly hinted that Nigel’s son could become a factor in what is currently a very strong welterweight division.

As today’s showing proved, Mr. Lewis is a more perceptive observer than his counterpart(s) at the web site where Benn has been repeatedly ‘dissed. Nigel’s son has made enormous strides in the last few years. He’s also an interesting character. Having spent much of his formative years living on the Spanish island of Majorca, he’s fluent in Spanish which is always a useful attribute from a marketing standpoint. But as for how good he is, let’s not jump to conclusions, mindful that Samuel Vargas was on the wrong side of the curve, having lost three of his last five heading in.

The question doesn’t yet have a definitive answer, but tonight in London, Conor Benn was very good, very very good.

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