First Ali-Frazier fight was one for the ages

| November 17, 2011

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

On that memorable 1971 night in Madison Square Garden, Muhammad Ali wasn’t the only Kentuckian to be pushed aside by Joe Frazier.

Smokin’ Joe got me too.

But let’s start at the beginning.

I was in New York City to conduct a seminar for sports editors at the American Press Institute at Columbia University. It was on the day that the first world heavyweight  championship fight between Louisville’s Muhammad Ali and Frazier was to be announced at a press conference in downtown Manhattan. So I had to go.

Soon after I arrived, the biggest fight you can imagine broke out between TV and newspaper photographers. Oh, well. All of us were there to talk about fighting.

When the fight between the amateurs was broken up, we sat down for lunch. I went up to speak with Ali and immediately was ordered to sit down.

“He’s from Louisville, one of my guys,” said Ali.

I decided that very moment that I was coming back for the real fight. Dean Eagle, sports editor of The Louisville Times, and Dave Kindred, sports editor of The Courier-Journal, went with me.

Ali’s homeboys

Because of Ali, the Louisville papers always got preferential treatment. Our seats were on the front row. On another side of the ring, first row, Frank Sinatra was seated. He was photographing for a magazine.

You’ve heard that old saying about electricity being in the air. It was that night at Madison Square Garden, and it got stronger as the restive crowd waited for the fighters. Then Joe Frazier came from his dressing room punching at air on his way to the ring. There was a  lot of applause, but then the place just went wild with shouts of Ali! Ali! Ali!

Then Ali was in the ring. Dancing. Staring at Frazier. Dancing and staring. The crowd was going bonkers.

Finally the fight started.

Bundini saved Ali

Frazier was beating the hell out of Ali, if you want to know the truth. I was just hoping that Frazier wouldn’t kill him.

Then, after a vicious round, Ali was stunned. Could he make it back to his corner? There was some doubt.

Bundini Brown, one of the men working Ali’s corner, picked up the spit bucket and poured the contents across the ring at Ali. The liquid seemed to bring Ali to his senses and he made it back to his corner. Bundini was fined by the New York Ring Commission, but he had helped his idol.

Ali’s mother, Mrs. Odessa Clay, had a choice seat near the floor and I would watch her when her son was getting much the worst of the fight. The pained look on her face is something I will never forget.

Ali note to Frazier

Frazier won the fight and writers, photographers and TV people headed for the press conference. I let the horde go ahead, then started to where Frazier and Ali would talk to the media.

All of a sudden somebody hit me from behind and almost knocked me off my feet. Before I could see who it was, I foolishly said, “What the….?”

It was Frazier.

I didn’t hit him back.

All of those memories came back to me last week when Frazier died. His family got a nice note from Ali, no doubt written by his wife, who is the best thing that ever happened to him.

The Paterno scandal

Every college and university president in America should learn a valuable lesson from the Penn State story and the ugly, despicable events that were allowed to go on and on as more and more children were defiled and tortured.

What one of Joe Paterno’s trusted coaches is charged with doing to nine, ten, eleven — or  who knows how many more? — is something that will make any parent or grandparent ill. It will make you want to hug your children or grandchildren.

The fact that Penn State football practices are closed should be stopped. Presidents should order their athletic directors and head coaches to make media members welcome.

If coaches complain, their superiors should demand, “What are you hiding?”

Most schools do close practices.

Start over?

With all of the goofy and terrible things going on at our colleges, I think it’s more than time to shake up the whole mess and start over. Let the National Basketball Association start its own kiddie school so that non-students can stop taking up spots for honest-to-goodness students.

I am sick of reading which university is showing “some love” for a basketball or football prospect. When high school kids sign with a college, that’s news. Forget all of the other junk.

Every other newspaper in the nation in addition to The New York Times should try to pry information out of college sports programs. The Times has uncovered major rules-breakers and deserves another Pulitzer.

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Category: Earl Cox on Sports

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

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