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It Was 40 Years Ago Today Ali Won That Thrilla Over Frazier in Manila

Frank Lotierzo

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On March 8, 1971 the most anticipated sporting event in history took place. It was titled “The Fight of The Century,” between heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier 26-0 (23) and former undisputed champ Muhammad Ali 31-0 (26).

What made the fight so compelling was the style clash between Joe and Muhammad. They were polar opposites outside of the ring regarding their personalities. In the ring, Frazier was the ultimate catch ‘n’ kill swarmer who forced the fight from bell-to-bell, opposed to Ali, who was a beautiful boxer who picked his spots sliding and gliding about the ring throwing fast and fluid accurate combinations. One’s strength was the others’ weakness and the others’ weakness was the others’ strength.

When they fought the first time, Frazier was better prepared mentally, physically and stylistically to confront Ali… more-so than any other opponent ever was to face their career nemesis and rival in history.

Frazier understood that Ali was more effective backing up and fighting when he choose to do so than he was when he was forced to back up. Ali was not ready for Frazier stylistically and had no concept how hard Frazier was to hit and keep off. Another problem Ali had was the fact that he was coming off an almost four year layoff and had only fought twice before meeting Frazier. On the other hand Joe was at his peak and always knew his worth and moment of truth would come against Ali.

Frazier won the first fight with Ali due to his unrelenting pressure and forcing Ali to fight off the ropes and out of the ring corners. Ali had his moments of brilliance during the first 10 rounds of the bout, but it was all Frazier from the 11th round on with Ali only winning round 14. Frazier sealed the deal when he dropped Muhammad with a massive left-hook that was heard around the world in the 15th round. Ali got up from the grave at the count of four but lost a unanimous decision.

A little more than two and a half years later, Ali and Frazier met again in another ‘brawler versus boxer’ confrontation when neither was champ. In between the first and second fights Ali fought 13 times as opposed to Frazier, who only fought four times. This time Ali was the fresher fighter with the more lively legs and spring. Frazier tried to force the action but Ali used his legs to dance out of range and pepper Joe from long range. Joe had his moments during the middle rounds, but Ali built a big lead and then rallied down the stretch to seal the unanimous decision in his favor.

And then there’s the third meeting between them, known as “the Thrilla In Manila.” In between the second and third bouts Ali had four fights and Frazier had two. Ali was now the undisputed champ and Frazier was still a top contender behind former champ George Foreman. The thinking by most sophisticated observers before the third meeting was this: Ali would breeze through the bout and Frazier, who was thought to be on the decline, would be target practice for Muhammad’s sharp shooting. And for two and a half, perhaps three rounds, they were right.

The Thrilla In Manila: Muhammad Ali 48-2 (35) vs. Joe Frazier 32-2 (27)

Ali came out fast and tried to jump on Frazier, who was a notorious slow starter. His thoughts were to get rid of Frazier early and not have to suffer through another long and physically taxing fight. However, Ali lacked the needed tools to punctuate the quick execution. Yes, he rocked Joe real good during the first two rounds and had him on his heels. In the third Ali landed some clean flurries, but Joe was starting to smoke and started to crash some solid left hooks and right hands to the champ’s body.

Starting in the fourth round Ali went to the ropes and tried to time Frazier on the way in. He was successful, but he didn’t disrupt Joe’s aggression and by the end of the round Frazier was finding his rhythm. During the middle rounds Ali fought off the ropes almost as if he were willing to let Frazier have his body and would look to score when he felt Frazier was reloading. Only in the seventh round did Ali attempt to use his legs and circle to the left out of Frazier’s range. And even at that Frazier was catching him because it was more natural for Joe to move forward quicker than a tiring Ali could move backwards.

By the eighth round it was apparent that it was taking too much out of Ali trying to avoid Frazier – so he went to the ropes and looked to pick his spots. The only problem was, Frazier was working him over real good to the head and body with thunderous left hooks and right hands. Actually, Ali was tired and content to lie against the ropes like he did against George Foreman a year earlier and endure the body punishment. As the rounds went on, Ali would try to strike quick early in the round but it didn’t take long for Frazier to force him to the ropes or one of the ring corners and start to work him over to the body first and then to the head. Ali’s legs had no spring and he couldn’t get away from Frazier and it looked as if Ali wasn’t going to get a second wind. If Joe could maintain his aggression without taking too many punches on the way in, he’d soon be champ again.

Starting in the 12th round, Ali began to catch Frazier with straight one-twos while waiting for him on the ropes. By this time in the fight Ali was too spent to even attempt to use his legs and fight Joe from long range. So he fought him flat-footed with his back mostly against the ropes. His saving grace turned out to be his seven inch reach advantage along with his straight punches landing on Frazier before Joe could close the distance and force Muhammad to trade hooks and uppercuts on the inside. Early in the 13th Ali knocked Frazier’s mouthpiece out as he burrowed forward. However, Joe kept forcing Muhammad to the ropes, but now Ali’s better condition and quick hands were winning him the exchanges on the inside. Early in the 14th Frazier appeared to be recovered, but he just couldn’t get out of the way of Ali’s straight lefts and rights. His face was badly swollen and he was getting hit with punches he couldn’t see.

Moments before the bell to start the 15th round, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch told Joe it was over and he was stopping the fight because he was getting hit with too many punches.

After the fight Frazier said, “Lawdy, lawdy, he’s a great and mighty champion. I hit him with punches that would bring down the walls of a city.” And Ali said the fight was the, “Closest thing to dying that I know of.”

When you take into account the perception of Ali and Frazier as fighters, their third fight goes against the grain. The first time they fought, the brawler wouldn’t let the boxer box, and in the rematch, the boxer boxed and didn’t allow the brawler to force the fight effectively. Well, the third bout between them was a brawl. Ali’s boxing ability was a long forgotten thought after the third round. During the “Thrilla In Manila” Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought it out toe-to-toe. And a case could be made that for the only time of the three times they met, it was Ali who actually landed the harder punches during the bout.

The “Thrilla In Manila was three fights in one. Ali owned the early going, Frazier owned the middle rounds up through the 11th and then Ali came on in the 12th, 13th and 14th. But he didn’t do it boxing! No, Joe forced him to fight and brawl in Manila. And once again Ali silenced his critics by out-brawling one of the greatest brawlers in heavyweight history.

Joe Frazier won the biggest fight between he and Ali, but Ali won the biggest brawl between them. Sadly, neither was ever great again and both should’ve retired forever after Manila. But tellingly, the legacy of both men is immense and I will propose, will always endure. And neither man in ensuing decades stated that they regretted their participation in this and other classic tussles. True warriors, with legacies undeniable.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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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Boxing-Odds-and-Ends-Big-Baby-Miller-Roberto Duran-and-More

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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