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Mayweather: The Perfect Fighter Still Pitching the Perfect Game

Bernard Fernandez

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New York Yankees righthander Don Larsen, who had gone 3-21 just two seasons earlier with the Baltimore Orioles, had only minutes earlier finished pitching the first – and to date, only – perfect game in World Series history, a 2-0 masterpiece over the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 Fall Classic in Yankee Stadium. Trying to make sense of the seemingly miraculous feat he had just witnessed, Joe Trimble of the New York Daily News struggled to find just the right words to begin his story. Dick Young came to his colleague’s rescue, typing in the seven-word opening paragraph that became one of the most famous leads in newspaper sports journalism.

“The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.”

Boxing and baseball are different sports, to be sure, but to the casual observer it would appear that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has surpassed “imperfect man” Larsen in at least one respect. Where Larsen went 27 up, 27 down on one magical afternoon, Mayweather – whom many have proclaimed as the “perfect” boxer – has gone 46 up and 46 down as a professional, with Argentine tough guy Marcos Maidana (35-4, 31 KOs) likely to be become his 47th consecutive victim Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It’s a rematch of their March 5 fight in which Mayweather was pressed far more than usual in winning a 12-round majority decision, the type of give-and-take affair in which he is rarely obliged to engage.

The television ads for the Showtime Pay-Per-View do-over loudly proclaim the previous close call as “Mayweather’s toughest fight,” which it really isn’t. If you want to see Mayweather truly pushed to the limit, YouTube his Dec. 7, 2002, unanimous decision over Jose Luis Castillo, which remains the ultimate litmus test for someone who guards the “0” in the loss column of his record as if it were the gold in Fort Knox. That is an appropriate analogy when you consider that Mayweather – and he is not the first superstar athlete to think this way – regards his enormous earning power as further certification that he is unique and unlike anyone who came before him, or might come at some later date. He has earned a reported $350 million in boxing, more than any fighter ever has, and with three more bouts before his lucrative six-bout deal with Showtime expires, the man they call “Money” could well push that figure close to $500 million by the time he hangs up his gloves. He has announced – and, really, there is little reason to doubt him this time – that 2015 is the final year in which we will see him as an active fighter before he devotes himself to the next phase of his boxing life as a promoter and entrepreneur.

But, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the Mayweather we have been told is singularly distinctive has been glimpsed before, at least in part, in the person of at least one predecessor of fairly recent vintage. Even the stories about Mayweather now being authored have a sameness that call to mind individuals that came before. That is not necessarily a negative, but it is a reminder that, in boxing as in Hollywood, there are only so many original ideas that can be conceived before the recycling process kicks into gear.

A lengthy profile of Mayweather by the Washington Post’s Rick Maese in advance of the second Maidana fight touches on all the pertinent facts, and is indicative of the writer’s skill as a wordsmith. But even Maese finds it difficult to come up with anything that hasn’t been written before about a famous fighter who has been psychoanalyzed more than the sum total of Sigmund Freud’s case studies. Consider how Maese concludes his story, with Mayweather leaving his gym in Las Vegas to head off into the artificiality of the neon-lit gambling mecca the world’s current pound-for-pound champ, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., has made his home.

“For Vegas and for Mayweather, it’s all choreographed, shimmering and plastic and contradictory at even turn,” Maese observes. “The money rolls in faster than anyone can count; air is pumped through the vents; entertainment is available at all hours. There’s no clock or rhyme or reason to anything, and everything under the sun can be bought. It’s all fueled by money and whim. Indulgences are the norm, excesses expected, and no indiscretion is ever judged.

“It’s the perfect city for an imperfect man.”

Somewhere, if Don Larsen were to read that description the puncher and the gaudy town that has so embraced him, you’d have to figure he’d have to crack a smile.

The Maese piece on Mayweather also examines the seeming conflict between “Money’s” swaggering, arrogant belief that he is unbeatable in the ring with the self-doubt that the fighter, at least to the writer’s way of thinking, apparently is harboring.

“Everything about Mayweather screams of insecurities: the way he flashes money, plays for cameras, seeks attention,” Maese writes. “But he says he’s completely comfortable with who he is, with what he has and with what he doesn’t. The real Mayeather is `a family man,’ he says, `a person who likes to give back, a great heart, loyal and honest.’ The cocky, flashy portrayal the world sees is apparently just a carefully crafted projection.”

It became clear to me that the Mayweather that Rick Maese sees is, in many ways, a replication of the Roy Jones Jr. that I perceived to be not so very long ago. Similarities between the two most naturally gifted fighters of their respective eras? They are plentiful: almost surrealistic talent, a fixation with image, the delineation between public and private personas and, as their reputations became increasingly outsized, a hesitancy to venture into the deepest and most treacherous waters of a shark-infested occupation.

It is tricky business when a writer, any writer, seeks to find real honesty in the morass of lies and half-truths swirling within a carefully orchestrated setting in which elite fighters, and their publicists, seek to cultivate public opinion to the purpose of generating maximum exposure and profit. Consider this, which I wrote about an in-decline Jones in November 2008:

“I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t attempt to go all Freudian in analyzing why Jones has been as disappointing in some regards as he has been exhilarating in others. I do think he has harbored a fear of being seriously hurt because of the state of living death in which his friend, Gerald McClellan, has existed for these past 13 years. It’s a gut reaction that most human beings can understand; prizefighting is a dangerous occupation most sensible persons wouldn’t dare attempt.

“It does seem apparent to me, though, that Jones is a mass of conflicted emotions, a preening show of bravado on the outside and a gnawing core of self-doubt on the inside. Teddy Atlas told us years ago, before Mike Tyson’s comeuppances at the hands of Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams and even Kevin McBride, that the self-proclaimed `baddest man on the planet’ was a bully who would not know how to react when someone had enough gumption to stand up to him.”

There are obvious differences between Mayweather and Jones, of course. From a technical standpoint, Jones – like the young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali – did everything wrong, but it turned out right, at least for a long time, because of his superior physical gifts. The young Ali and the young Jones could drop their hands to their sides, lean straight back, throw punches off the wrong foot and get away with it because of their remarkable reflexes and sense of timing. They were, in a manner of speaking, like gifted jazz musicians, playing riffs that only they could hear in their heads. But when the pace of the music changed, along with their reactive speed, their results took a decided turn for the worse. Mayweather, on the other hand, possesses some of Jones’ instinctive moves, but his technique is far more polished and fundamentally flawless. He does everything right, and so far it keeps turning out right.

The other difference is the fact that Jones, who at 45 is a mere shadow of his former greatness, has eight defeats on his record, four of which came on knockouts. Mayweather is fixated on the notion of retiring undefeated, convinced that an unblemished record will – must – elevate him above even great fighters who have had to swallow the bitter pill of occasional defeat.

Like Jones, who liked to tell everyone that there was a marked difference between nice-guy Roy and the badass “RJ” who was his version of Dr. Hyde to the more frequently witnessed Dr. Jekyll, Mayweather has subdivided himself into family-man Floyd and “Money,” who is that much more brash and presumably more difficult for outclassed opponents to deal with in the ring.

“RJ is a bad dude,” Jones said after the first of his three bouts with Antonio Tarver, which he won on a close decision, his only victory in the trilogy. “I don’t like to mess with him too much. But my subconscious, which is where he usually dwells, seems to be jacked up … You don’t get to see me like that often.”

And Mayweather?

“You have Floyd Mayweather and then you have Money Mayweather,” both personas’ friend and longtime business associate, Leonard Ellerbe, is quoted as saying in the story by Maese. “Money Mayweather is what the fans see.”

Sometimes, though, it is difficult distinguishing Floyd from Money. For someone who has made such a point of his devotion to his family, Floyd/Money has been involved in domestic violence cases in which he is alleged to have struck Josie Harris, mother to three of his four children, and, more recently, fiancée Shantel Jackson. There have been other dustups outside the ring, creating the impression of someone who is at least periodically out of control. In the wake of the domestic-violence incident that got Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice drummed out of the NFL, Mayweather again flouted convention by rising to Rice’s defense, saying that “I think there’s a lot worse things that go on in other people’s households. It’s just not caught on video, if that’s safe to say … Like I’ve said in the past, no bumps, no bruises, no nothing. With O.J. and Nicole, you seen pictures. With Chris Brown and Rihanna, you seen pictures. With (Chad) Ochocinco and Evelyn, you seen pictures. You guys have yet to see any pictures of a battered woman, a woman who claims she was kicked and beaten (by Mayweather).”

Pretty repellant stuff, but then allowances always have been made in boxing for even the outrageous of statements and actions. Mayweather’s tacit if not outright acceptance of his semi-villainous reputation isn’t likely to affect his box-office and PPV clout. He doesn’t much care if fight fans buy his fights to see him win or lose, so long as his take-home check has enough zeroes on it.

“Whether my hand is raised or not, winning is giving it 100 percent, but if I make $70 million or $80 million, guess what? I’m a winner,” he says in the Maese piece.

If that were the case, however, Mayweather would understand that his fattest payday, and his best opportunity to embellish his legacy, would be to simply end the interminable suspense of his circle dance with Manny Pacquiao and sign for the fight that everyone most wants to see. Who’s right and who’s wrong no longer matters much; fighting Maidana, Amir Khan or anyone else whose name has been floated for the Floyd’s Farewell Tour is no longer sufficient to fully secure the 37-year-old Mayweather’s place in the annals of boxing. Nor can he continue to casually dismiss Pacquiao as a “little yellow chump” who somehow is unworthy to swap punches with him simply because “Pac-Man” is promoted by Bob Arum, who once promoted Mayweather and is the object of some of Money’s most virulent ire. The old, tired excuses not only don’t fly anymore, they can’t even get airborne.

I don’t believe that Mayweather is afraid of Pacquiao, whom I have long admired as a fighter. In fact, I would have picked Mayweather to win years ago, and I’d pick him to win now. But his inclination to play it safe, relatively speaking, in the maintenance of his undefeated record as his career winds down also calls to mind one of the less praiseworthy aspects of the Roy Jones Jr. that once occupied the pinnacle upon which Mayweather now is perched.

“Roy Jones,” former HBO senior vice president Lou DiBella once noted, “is the most careful great fighter I’ve ever seen.”

Added Seth Abraham, the onetime HBO Sports president: “(Jones’) drive was to do things that were of interest to him, but not necessarily to fight the very best middleweights, super middleweights and light heavyweights who were out there. I think Roy’s legacy in the sport absolutely will suffer because he chose not to do everything he could to make himself as great as he might have been.”

Jones is a future first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, his recent stumbles notwithstanding, and so is Mayweather. A loss to Maidana – and, let’s face it, Mayweather is no more resistant to the aging process than any other fighter, although Bernard Hopkins might qualify as an exception to the natural laws of diminishing returns – won’t change that. But the window of opportunity is closing fast for him to do the right thing and stare across the ring at Pacquiao, rather than to trash-talk him from a distance.

Hopkins has correctly noted that there are things even more precious to a fighter than immense wealth, which is why the 49-year-old ageless wonder has elected to test himself in a Nov. 8 unification matchup with the most devastating puncher in the light heavyweight division, Russia’s Sergey Kovalev.

“I want to fight the best,” reasoned Hopkins, who added that “history don’t go broke,” which is more than can be said about athletes with profligate spending habits who eventually find themselves destitute. It is the reason B-Hop will be remembered fondly even if he is beaten bloody by Kovalev. The old guy at least will have taken his best shot at making more history, and therein is a nobility that is indisputable.

Forget the veneer of faux perfection. I will be watching Mayweather-Maidana II, like a lot of other people, but only as it serves as a hopeful step toward Mayweather-Pacquiao. And if that fight never happens, it will be a hundred times worse than Roy Jones Jr. declining to bite the bullet, travel to Europe and mix it up with Dariusz Michalczewski.

Fight fans deserve something better than consolation prizes from someone who insists he isn’t merely the best fighter of today, but the best ever. So Floyd – or Money, whomever he chooses to be at any given moment – is almost obligated to do the right thing, if not for our sake than for his own peace of mind.

Because not only is it time, it’s long overdue.

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Boxing’s Great Rivalries: Another TSS Trivia Quiz

Arne K. Lang

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Test your knowledge of boxing history in this 15-question multiple-choice trivia quiz. Get 12 or more right and go to the head of the class.

To find the correct answers you will need to visit the TSS Fight Forum (CLICK HERE). There this quiz will repeat and you will find the answers sitting below the final question.

  1. What was the outcome of the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier?

(a) Muhammad Ali won a 12-round decision.

(b) Joe Frazier won a 12-round decision

(c) Muhammad Ali won a 15-round decision

(d) Joe Frazier won a 15-round decision

 

2. Sugar Ray Robinson was 1-2-1 vs. this rival including a loss at the Las Vegas Convention Center in their final meeting.

(a) Carmen Basilio

(b) Gene Fullmer

(c) Paul Pender

(d) Carl “Bobo” Olson

 

3. From Union City, New Jersey, he had six fights with Jack Johnson in 1905 and 1906 and likely many more with “Papa Jack” that haven’t yet found their way into the record book.

(a) Klondike Haynes

(b) Joe Jeannette

(c) Sam Langford

(d) Denver Ed Martin

 

4. The first fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran was held in the city where Sugar Ray Leonard won his Olympic gold medal. What city?

(a) Tokyo

(b) Montreal

(c) Los Angeles

(d) Mexico City

 

5. Manny Pacquiao had a memorable four-fight series with Juan Manuel Marquez. What title was at stake in their first encounter?

(a) Bantamweight

(b) Featherweight

(c) Lightweight

(d) Welterweight

 

6. Carmen Basilio lost, won, and drew, in that order, with this cagey welterweight, best remembered for losing a hotly disputed decision to Kid Gavilan.

(a) Johnny Saxton

(b) Johnny Bratton

(c) Billy Graham

(d) Hedgemon Lewis

 

7. This great middleweight was 1-4 in five bouts with Gene Tunney. In most record books, his victory in their first encounter is considered the only blemish on Tunney’s record.

(a) Stanley Ketchel

(b) Harry Greb

(c) Mickey Walker

(d) Billy Miske

 

8. He participated in four world championship fights, the last three with archrival Barney Ross.

(a) Fritzie Zivic

(b) Sammy Mandell

(c) Jimmy McLarnin

(d) Tony Canzoneri

 

9. Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep met four times with the featherweight title on the line. How many of these fights went the full scheduled distance?

(a) none

(b) one

(c) two

(d) three

 

10. Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought six times, Robinson winning five. How many of these fights were world title fights?

(a) one

(b) two

(c) three

(d) four

 

11. Charley Burley won two of three fights with intra-city rival Fritzie Zivic. What city?

(a) Brooklyn

(b) Boston

(c) Philadelphia

(d) Pittsburgh

 

12. He was 1-2 in three nationally televised fights with Vinny Pazienza.

(a) Greg Haugen

(b) Hector Camacho

(c) Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini

(d) Roger Mayweather

 

13. He defeated Mike Tyson twice as an amateur, knocking Tyson out of the 1984 Olympic Games, but Tyson had his number when they met as a pro, knocking him out in the opening round.

(a) Marvis Frazier

(b) Tyrell Biggs

(c) Henry Tillman

(d) Mitch “Blood” Green

 

14. Future Hall of Famers Jack Britton and Ted “Kid” Lewis met an astounding 19 times between 1915 and 1921 with all but two of those engagements packaged as welterweight title fights. Britton was born William J. Breslin. What was the birth name of Ted “Kid” Lewis?

(a) Alfonso Brown

(b) Harry Besterman

(c) Guiseppe Berardinelli

(d) Gershon Mendelhoff

 

These great Mexican warriors met four times with their second and third encounters named The Ring magazine Fight of the Year.

(a) Ruben OIivares and Jesus “Chucho” Castillo

(b) Carlos Zarate and Daniel Zaragoza

(c) Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales

(d) Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez

Want more? Check out our previous boxing trivia tests.

Heavyweight Champions

Middleweight Champions

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People and Places

 

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Book Review

“Sparring with Smokin’ Joe” is a Great Look into a Great, Complicated Man

Phil Woolever

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BOOK REVIEW – Some rare moments arrive, as either a blessing or a curse, to cast definitive impressions of how someone might be remembered. As anyone reading this should well know, such a moment occurred 50 years ago today (March 8, 1971) at Madison Square Garden for Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

For Frazier, a punishing 15-round victory became the foundation to his legacy. That leads us to Sparring with Smokin’ Joe by Glenn Lewis, the latest biographical volume to focus on Frazier, with a timely release date close to the “Fight of the Century” anniversary that should provide plenty of solid promotional material for the book.

As a piece of literature the book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, stands up quite well on its own, and as a piece of boxing literature it stands out, through previously unpublished situational information on Frazier.

I found it to be a must-read for Frazier fans and a solid plus for most boxing libraries.

Author Lewis is a graduate school professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and director of journalism at the affiliated York College with decades of expertise on his resume. This project is expertly constructed and reads very smoothly throughout. Beside the many insightful instances regarding Frazier himself, a very thoughtful portrait of his son Marvis Frazier runs through the narrative, which also conjures a vivid depiction of Frazier’s Broad Street Gym in North Philadelphia.

The book’s unique highlight is the ongoing tale of traveling with Frazier and his all-white band (with multiple Berklee school members) during a tour of southern states.

The first 140 pages or so (out of a listed 256), make up a fascinating memoir of getting to know Frazier and his circle during 1980, around four years after his second crushing defeat to George Foreman. At that point in his life, Frazier was trying to settle into retirement, guide Marvis’s culminating amateur career, and transition from boxing superstar to fledgling vocal attraction.

I devoured the opening sections of the book with reader’s glee, far more than enough to highly recommend Lewis’ book, but toward the end it seemed maybe he should have quit while and where he was ahead.

The last third gets substantially less engaging. The author grew distanced from his subject’s proximity and it shows, as the tale becomes far more familiar in relating already well-documented fight data.

There is still some fine perspective from Lewis like Joe’s hugely destructive obsession with rushing Marvis into disaster versus Larry Holmes, but for many of the closing segments you could cut and paste the same period of Frazier’s career out of Mark Kram Jr’s recent book Smokin’ Joe (2019) and gain a bit more personal touch.

That’s not at all to imply that the boxing writing is weak. Lewis makes an excellent case that Frazier won the rematch with Ali, not only the first fight; which leads to justified speculation on what could have occurred had Frazier gotten the second nod. Back then I shared Lewis’ opinion on the scoring, and his detailed analysis inspires taking another look at the replay.

Some minor gym characters or business associates become animated as if they’re standing in front of you, but I was disappointed in how a charming, complicated guy like Jimmy Young was overlooked and how larger-than-life characters like Gil Clancy and especially George Benton (a living example of where playwright August Wilson drew inspiration) came across rather subdued compared to the boisterous conversationalists I spoke with many times not long after the year Lewis’s story begins.

There are also a couple of minor omissions that, though based on very brief listings, still stick out when considering Lewis’s scholarly, journalistic credentials.

James Shuler is mentioned, but there’s nothing about his tragic death in a motorcycle accident a week after losing to Tommy Hearns in a minor title fight, nor the touching story about Hearns at the funeral, offering to put the belt in Shuler’s coffin. Frazier’s restaurant, Smokin’ Joe’s Corner, is also listed a couple times but there is no mention of the horrible murders that took place there during an inside job robbery and how that tragedy probably put the final nail into Frazier’s aspirations in the food industry.

I also hoped for some tidbits from Frazier’s thoughtful and wise older brother Tommy who provided me with some rare insights (and had an offbeat sense of humor about his name), a stoic trickster who seemed to lovingly enjoy putting his famous sibling on the spot.

Still, the overall impression I got was fantastic. A memoir should share time, location, emotion, and reflection. Lewis achieves all those things many times over.

Which leads to my primary, personal takeaway of this very worthwhile book. Based on a few of the lengthy encounters I was lucky enough to share with Joe Frazier (boxing and non-boxing related), it’s difficult for me to imagine that a canny observer like Lewis didn’t emerge from the amazing and enviable access he got with more wild tales, especially from nights on the road.

So, I’d have to guess, and bet, that Lewis let some of the more sensational situations or quotes remain aloft in the mist of the past, which to me is admirable, even more so in these social media dominated days.

Here’s a non-controversial quote that is included, which provides a sample of the many fine nuggets to be found:

“I don’t think you’re less of a man for crying,” said Joe, taking me by surprise. “It’s healthy for you. I cry if something goes wrong- I’ll cry right out. But if I cry out of anger, look out! Somebody’s in trouble. Crying shows a man has heart and helps him out of his pressures. Just don’t cry for nothing.”

I could almost hear Frazier’s voice when I read that, and descriptions of places I’ve been like Frazier’s gym read true enough to give the entire book an aura of accuracy.

A dozen excellent photographs serve as a first-class coda.

Fifty years after his biggest triumph, Joe Frazier remains a compelling topic in the discourse of sociological significance. This well written tribute does him plenty of justice.

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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