Reliving the legendary Ali-Frazier rivalry

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 11, 2011 08:40 hrs

Earlier this week, I lost another part of my growing up days when Joe Frazier passed away. His demise triggered memories of the Ali-Frazier heavyweight bouts that I followed with fascination as an adolescent. In 1980, I purchased my first book, The Greatest: My Own Story, an autobiography of Ali with Richard Durham.

Undoubtedly, Frazier, for all his victories and fearsome punches, was better known for the three bouts with Ali at a time when heavyweight boxing was beginning to blossom in its mass appeal, courtesy the Louisville Lip. Ali's ready wit and shocking irreverence to his peers stirred up the otherwise placid waters and gave boxing the profile and massive exposure.

The book came out of my showcase on Wednesday morning as I re-read the highly insightful narration of the first meeting between Ali and Frazier. At that time, Ali was still serving his three-year boxing ban for refusing to serve in the Vietnam war when Frazier picked him up as the two drove to New York.

I believe during that drive, the seeds of their three epochal fights were sown. Frazier was the world champion at that time, but was fully aware of Ali's boxing ability. In the course of the long drive, Ali, desperate to get back his boxing license repeatedly taunted Frazier, hoping that the champion would use his good offices to revoke the ban.

Ali said: "Somebody told me you were glad I am not allowed to fight…." Frazier responded: "Look, I wish it was in my power to give you a license. I would give you my own license if they'd let me fight you. That's how bad I want you."

Later in the conversation, Frazier explained why he liked to say he comes out smoking and hence the sobriquet "Smokin' Joe". He said: "Ain't nobody that could put that smoke out. They slow down the fire a bit, but when the fire's gone, the smoke is still there…" In fact, Frazier went on to admit that Ali was his inspiration and he worked harder so as to be ready to "whip that mouth."

The two eventually met in 1971 at New York's Madison Square Garden and again two years hence in a re-match at the same venue, followed by the epic "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975. These were fights that had the sporting world sitting on the edge and took boxing to new heights in popularity before the professional circuit dissolved into a maze of different commissions and few seem to care these days.

Sadly, Frazier never quite received the accolades he deserved, with Ali dominating the scene and being unable to match the legend's gift of the gab. Ultimately, he remained forever the second best and always the "other boxer" in the famous trilogy of heavyweight title fights.

The nostalgic mood persisted and even India's thumping win over the West Indies at the Kotla barely stirred any emotions. Sachin, despite crossing the 15,000-run mark in Tests, again failed to get to his 100th international century.

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However, it was good to see India bounce back after the disastrous batting in the first innings while I thought the West Indies played to their potential, but clearly not a patch on the top four teams in world cricket - Australia, South Africa, England and India. In flashes, though, the Windies looked good, but overall, their performance fell far short.

Dhoni should be quite pleased not only because of eclipsing Kirmani's record of 199 dismissals, but also that a relatively inexperienced bowling attack acquitted itself well. As well as Ojha and Ashwin bowled, it was young Umesh Yadav who looked impressive and this tearaway held out promise, much like Ishant did when he started out.

I would be surprised if India cannot wrap up the series 3-0 and for Sachin to get the 100th century monkey off his back, possibly at the Eden Gardens where I expect the ball to come on more readily than it did at the Kotla.

While the Kotla game was on, motorsports was creating ripples in the form of the much-hyped i1 Super Series announcing SRK as among one of its franchises. If anything, with Sachin being the brand ambassador, the series has certainly acquired a high profile, but I doubt if we will ever see the really top drivers participating.

Honestly, it is difficult to perceive drivers with F1 wins behind them getting into a 150bhp car and drive in a comparatively low-profile series that will take another four or five seasons to first prove its credentials and then establish itself. It is like driving a Maruti 800 after a spell in a Lamborghini. At best, the series will provide a leg-up for young aspirants and as for the commerce, I am clueless as to the business model.

It is to be hoped that the Super Series wouldn't end up defunct like the A1 Grand Prix in a matter of a couple of years.

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