Jewish World Review Nov 9, 2011 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan 5772
Requiem for a once-great sport
By Dale McFeatters
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Up until perhaps the 1950s, to pick an arbitrary decade, the American athletic world was dominated by four sports: baseball, college football, horse racing and boxing.
College football and baseball are doing just fine, thank you, secure among the top four. Except for the Triple Crown, horse racing has become almost a niche sport, and boxing is long past its prime.
The confusing welter of sanctioning organizations and the simultaneous claimants to championships in an equally confusing array of weight classes makes it impossible for all but the most dedicated fan to follow. With the exception of the occasional marquee match, boxing is being eclipsed by a hybrid form of fighting called mixed martial arts.
The death of "Smokin' Joe" Frazier on Monday at age 67 was further sad evidence that the sport's glory days are behind it. Frazier's name will forever by linked with that of Muhammad Ali, even though the two only fought each other three times.
Frazier, then the heavyweight champion, won the first fight in 1971 with a 15th-round left hook still remembered as "The Punch" that floored Ali, who throughout his career was rarely knocked down. The match took place in Madison Square Garden, an arena synonymous with boxing that has since been displaced by larger, glitzier stadiumlike venues more suitable for pay-for-view broadcasts.
In the second fight, Ali beat Frazier in a 12-round decision. The third fight, held in the Philippines, became legendary. In stifling heat and humidity, Frazier and Ali went at each other relentlessly, with little of the time-killing clinches and backing around the right that boxers use to slow the pace.
At the end of 14 rounds, Frazier was so battered that he couldn't see and his corner man refused to let him go out for the final round. Ali later said, "It was the closest thing to dying that I know of."
Ali poisoned their relationship before their second fight by calling Frazier a gorilla and an Uncle Tom. When Ali, his gait uncertain, his speech slurred, lit the torch in Atlanta at the '96 Olympics, Frazier growled, "They should have thrown him in." Supposedly, Frazier forgave Ali in later years. Not everybody believes it.
Frazier fought only twice more after Manila. Ali kept on fighting, including a notable victory over George Foreman in Zaire in a fight dubbed the "Rumble in the Jungle."
Frazier supported himself in later years by signing autographs and posing for photos. Ali is 69, barely able to talk or walk. Boxing's connection to its golden age grows more tenuous.
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