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Down the Manila Memory Lane (Pt. 2)

THREE THE HARD WAY: Joseph William Frazier, George Edward Foreman, and Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay) were the  Lords of  the Ring in the sizzling 70’s.

It was the closest thing to dying – Muhammad Ali

Ali-Frazier II – took place at the same reputed venue, Madison Square Garden, on January 28 1974. The build-up to the fight did not create as much buzz as their initial encounter as both boxers’ fistic auras now hung  ignominiously askew.

Joe Frazier had been dethroned by the new Frankenstein of boxing known as George Foreman in the most emphatic of ways, a second-round knockout, and Muhammad Ali had fought two closely contested fights with Ken Norton, who besides Joe Frazier was his other Achilles heel.

In one of their two meetings, Norton had handed Ali his second defeat and had even put an exclamation mark on his otherwise unheralded victory when in the blink of an eyelid landed a smack-dab  on Ali’s jaw in the second round and dislocated it. That Ali was able to soldier on and go the full distance amid such harrowing and hampering pain was a mark not only of his surpassing  greatness but his invulnerability even to the direst of odds.  

In light of the aforesaid blots, when Ali and Frazier clashed in January 1974, neither was a champion. The fight was not simply a clash of egos though: besides being a grudge match,  it would determine who would be next in line to face the titanically heavy-handed,  monstrous Foreman.  

Being a non-title contest, Ali-Frazier II was fought over twelve rounds, now pruned to ten in our day. Ali romped home to a unanimous verdict in a slugfest that was no more or less a classic as their 1971 face-off.  He in fact came close to stopping Frazier in the second round, when he had him in deep trouble after peppering him with a blitz of punches which had him on rubbery legs. 

His short but stout legs had clearly turned to jelly and his immediate surroundings were doing a merry-go-round but the referee, under the mistaken impression that the bell signaling the end of the round had rung, stepped in and saved Smoking Joe from a decisive rout.     

RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE

With Ali’s demolition of Frazier came the mandatory shot at the title held by George Foreman. The bookies did not even deign to give Ali a half-chance at dislodging the hulking, six-foot-four  “Big George”, who was cut from the same mould as the fearsome Charles Sonny Liston of the swinging sixties and who at  the time enjoyed a chilling reputation as the hardest puncher in boxing history. His punches were said to have the effect of a battering ram, his jabs ramrod-like.

Foreman, five years Ali’s junior,  was a weapon of mass destruction: he had decked all his 40 opponents to date, only three of whom had taken him the full distance, using his trademark roundhouse punches telegraphed from behind. Ken Norton and Joe Frazier, the two men  who had given Ali a drubbing  and forced him to dig deeper into himself to summon something extra Foreman had fiddled with like a yoyo. Neither had heard the opening bell to the third round.

Frazier for one had been bounced about the ring like a football, with six  horizontal trips to the canvass in the space of about six minutes. Ali wasn’t expected to fare any better.

In the fight,  which took place in October 1974 and which Ali with his congenital gift of elocution  dubbed Rumble in the Jungle  as the venue  was Zaire (today’s DRC), the geographical setting of the luxuriant Ituri Rain Forest, Ali transfixed the world when he slew the slow and lumbering monster that was Foreman  in the eighth round, using a rashly devised defensive technique he called rope-a-dope.

This was a strategy where he would lean against the ropes for the most part of the round as  Foreman expended an inordinate amount of energy by banging away at his arms and flanks with his howitzer punches. 

Then when he  sensed that  Foreman had jaded out, he would spin off the ropes and unleash a volley of left-right combinations in rapid succession against his  bemused opponent. His equally bewildered trainer Angelo Dundee repeatedly but vainly besought him to  “get off the goddamn ropes”.

At age 32, Muhammad Ali became only the second man after Floyd Patterson in 1960 to win the world heavyweight title twice.  

THRILLA IN MANILLA

In Rumble in the Jungle,  match promoter Donovan King had sweet-talked the Zairean dictator  President Mobuto Seseko  into hosting the fight  as a surefire device to put the little-known but resource-rich gigantic country on the world map.

In Thrilla in Manila, or Ali-Frazier III, the spike-haired King again had coaxed the Philippines despot Ferdinand Marcos into staging  the fight in the politically tumultuous country  in a bid to burnish its highly tainted image internationally. In either case, the purse was furnished not by King himself but from the coffers of  the host government.  

In the prefight taunt, Ali upped the ante. Drawing on his rapier wit and penchant for poetry, he tormented Frazier thus: “Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.” As he uttered this drivel, while he sat face to face with Frazier on a promotional dais, he had propped up in his hand a little toy gorilla which he incessantly pummelled, with a repetitive monologue which went, “Come on gorilla, this is a thrilla”, his handsome features creased with a mocking smirk.

Frazier was “dumb”, “ugly”, “stupid’, Ali crowed. A naturally taciturn and dim-witted Frazier was aware he was no match for Ali’s sophisticated wit. He mustered no more than a stammering incoherence,  as always maintaining a quiet and steely dignity in the face of his  mortal foe’s merciless  verbal abuse. But the nub of his mumble was clear – he intended to murder Ali, which he just stopped short of doing as the fight raged.  It was in the fight that he was going to give vent to all the pent-up rage of  yesteryears.

The two fought to a capacity crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, in Quenzon City,  Manilla.  Amped by a rapturous bumper audience,  a jolt of adrenaline blazing through their bodies like a montane forest fire,  they put on a show that was as thrilling as it was tragic.

It was one of the most brutal spectacles in the annals of  the “sweet science” and ranks as one of the best bouts in boxing history, a laurel that has completely eluded Floyd “All-That-Money” Mayweather in all his 49 fights. No other fight has quite measured up to it in sheer drama and intensity, save, perhaps, for the equally electrifying Hagler-Hearns (“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler versus Thomas  “The Hitman” Hearns) of April 1985.  

At just under six feet, Frazier far from bore down on Ali’s six-foot-three-and-half frame. But he squared up to Ali toe to toe and matched him blow for blow in a spine-tingling slugfest, continuously weaving and bobbing and sneak-deploying  his murderous left hook, which he had honed by slugging  into sides of beef carcasses whilst he worked in a slaughterhouse. Frazier knew only one way to fight – going forward. 

That way, he was toast for the devastatingly crisp and accurate Ali,  whose fast-twitch movements, in-your-face jab, and left-right combos were a nightmare for the otherwise game Frazier. For the most part, however, Frazier,  like the daredevil he was, walked through the  phalanx of punches Ali rained on him and to a degree his seemingly limitless  reserves of stamina stymied Ali’s rhythm.

On occasion, when he tried to employ the rope-a-dope tactic that had so spectacularly paid off in Rumble in the Jungle, Ali  could not fend off his attacker: the tactic simply galvanized Frazier, who let fly by picking up  his intensity of attack.

Whilst Ali, who rightfully and deservedly called himself “The Greatest” (contrast that with Money May’s obviously asinine and gibberish “The Best Ever”) basically rearranged Frazier’s highly susceptible facial features, Frazier inflicted unspeakable harm to Ali’s beautifully constituted  body, in keeping with the boxing axiom that “kill the body and the head will fall”.

His persistent firecracker whacks to Ali’s kidneys, mid-section and ribs, which forced Ali to substantially lower his guard,  had many a ringsider wincing in horror as if they too were participants in the fray.  By the end of Round 14, however,  Frazier’s eyes were so puffed up he could hardly see, or if he at all did, through tiny, wafer-thin slits. On his part, Ali’s fair-hued body was a mishmash of welts and abrasions.

It must have been a welcome respite to both fighters – though a battered but unbowed Frazier foolhardily protested – when Frazier’s legendary trainer Eddie Futch called a halt to the proceedings at the end of Round 14 to save his charge’s massacre by the desperately swarming Ali who out of nowhere unleashed a pinpoint flurry to which Frazier had no answer. As one reporter perspicaciously put it, Ali  “dredged  up all his own last reserves of power to make sure there wouldn't have to be a fifteenth round”. 

It was a pyrrhic victory though for  Ali who, slumped in his corner in a state of near-collapse,  hardly looked triumphant.  Says one contemporary report:  “He had lumps on his forehead. His nose was scraped pink. He moved stiffly, almost in a limp. When he shook hands with a softly folded right fist, he winced. When he sat, he was hunched in soreness.”

In a rare tribute to Ali, Frazier remarked as he whimpered from numbing pain in his dressing room, blocks of ice clasped to  his bulbous, hideously disfigured face, that, “That man  is a great champion. I threw punches that could have brought down a building”.  Ali’s affirmation of this statement was total: he said Frazier quit just before he himself did and that that was the closest he had come to dying.

COUNTING THE COST

With the benefit of hindsight, neither gladiator won Thrilla in Manilla. True, each pugilist’s legacy was secure and a Hall of Fame berth was a foregone conclusion, but a part of their overall body-mind make-up died that day. Joe Frazier was damaged goods: whilst he was comparatively healthier, he became punch drunk and as a boxer was no more than a shadow of his former, formidable self. He was to fight only two more times – on none of which he won – before he hung up the gloves. His only diabolical consolation was that the 440 punches with which he bludgeoned Ali on that night had exacted a heavy and lasting toll on Ali’s health, precipitating his later physical decline that culminated in Parkinson’s Disease.

“Look at him now,” Frazier would in future gloat as Ali’s speech gut-wrenchingly  slurred and as he became confined to a wheel chair. “God’s shut him up. He  can’t talk no more because he was saying the wrong things. He was always making fun of me, telling me I’m a dummy. Tell me now — him or me,  which one talks worse? He’s finished and I’m still here.”

Ali did candidly admit that Parkinson’s Disease must have struck not long after Thrilla in Manilla. But the motor impairment was not necessarily  engendered by the effects of Frazier’s pulverising  blows: it was in all probability only hastened by their effect,  the doctors said, as Ali’s  own mother Odessa Clay did suffer from the disease too.

In his 37  career fights, Frazier had 32 wins, 27 knockouts, 4 losses, and 1 draw. Only two people beat him – Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The draw with Jumbo Cummings in December 1981 was his valedictory appearance in the ring. On the other hand,  Ali went on to fight ten more times that only served to aggravate his ailment after Thrilla in Manilla, in the process becoming the first heavyweight boxer to regain the title twice though his reflexes were no more than a quarter of what they used to be. He retired in 1982, with a record of 61 fights, 56 wins, 37 knockouts and 5 losses, having suffered only one stoppage  at the hands of  Larry Holmes and this being  the result of overdosing on weight-reduction prescriptions. Boxing pundits almost unanimously acknowledge him as the greatest heavyweight of all time and the second best boxer overall after the great Sugar Ray Robinson. Money May “the best ever”? Please give me a break!

Whilst Ali has periodically teetered on the brink of death, Frazier passed away in his first major brush with morbidity at age 67  on November 7 2011,  following a short-lived battle with liver cancer. The death was an anticlimax in a manner of speaking as he had always boasted that he would outlive Ali come rain or shine and therefore win the fight that really mattered – that of longevity. Sadly, it was Ali’s hand, albeit a deathly one, that was raised in victory yet again.  Be that as it may, Ali defied the rigours of Parkinsons to attend Frazier’s funeral.

Meanwhile, it seemed  the two age-old rivals never quite mended fences in arguably boxing’s most vitriolic feud. The residual of anger Frazier had continued to  fester. His former business manager recalls how one day Frazier ordered him to get out of the car on a deserted road after he spoke glowingly of Ali’s boxing feats. “When you work for me you don’t say good things about Ali,” Frazier thundered when the manager later rejoined him after hotfooting it for many miles.

Ali at some stage anyway did render his rather belated but  heartfelt apologies to Frazier through  a newspaper for all the heartache his verbal jabs had caused him. When Frazier was asked as to whether he had accepted the apology, he retorted, “It is to me he should directly apologise and not through back channels”. On hearing this, Ali instantly shot back, telling journalists that,  “If you see Frazier, you tell him he's still a gorilla!”

He never retracted the statement.

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Finally, sponsors jerk BFA

30th January 2023

With many being of the view that the state of football in Botswana has deteriorated significantly as it is no longer appealing to the business community, this was a good week for the football community. The Botswana Football Association (BFA) leadership under the stewardship of MacLean Letshwiti secured sponsorship for a combined value of P19. 3 million for the FA Cup competition and the First Division league – both South and North.

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Clubs petition Zackhem, Jagdish Shah

23rd January 2023

Some disgruntled Botswana Football League (BFL) shareholders are planning to petition the BFL board led by Gaborone United director and chief financier Nicolas Zackhem and his treasurer Jagdish Shah. Furthermore, they want to challenge the Botswana football Association (BFA) leadership over the deteriorating status of football in the country.

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P80 million windfall for BFA

9th January 2023

Botswana Football Association (BFA) is poised to benefit from FIFA’s forward development programme. The Association will receive over P80 million to be used during the course of the next four years, as the world football governing body is strengthens its commitment to building a stronger foundation and the growth of football.

The Forward 3.0 funds – to be accessed by all 54 CAF members for the next four years have seen an increase of USD 2 million compared to Forward 2.0 cycle and Forward 1.0 cycle when the programme was launched.

According to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, the third cycle of the programme will be launched this month and it will dedicate more financial resources than before to developing football nations as there is an overall increase of approximately 30% compared to Forward 2.0.

“It is vital that we are now strengthening our commitment to building a stronger foundation for the growth of football,” Infantino noted.

The 62 page report by FIFA-Forward-Development-Programme-Forward-3-0-regulations also reveals that for travel and equipment, each member association, subject to compliance with the regulations, will receive an additional USD 1 million to cover the cost of travel and accommodation for their national teams. It further states that the remaining funds may be used to cover the cost of travel and accommodation for domestic competitions organized by the member associations.

“A contribution of up to USD 200,000 for the four-year cycle (2023-2026) to cover the cost of any football equipment related to the training of players and organization of matches (e.g. full kits for the national teams, balls, mini goals, bibs, substitution boards and referees’ communication systems) for those member associations that are identified as needing the most assistance,” the report indicated.

FIFA President, Infantino and his team said the member association is identified as needing the most assistance, for the purpose of the contributions, where their annual revenues (excluding Forward Programme funds as well as funds from any other FIFA programme/ initiative) do not exceed USD 4 million as the figure shall be reflected in the latest annual statutory audit report submitted to the FIFA general secretariat within six months after the closing of the relevant financial year.

Nevertheless, the contributions for travel will be released in four equal installments of USD 250,000 each in January every year, whilst those for equipment will be released in four equal installments of USD 50,000 each in January every year provided that the member association has fulfilled the conditions.

For the specific projects – in the case of Botswana and Namibia – there is an ambition to host the AFCON 2027 and if the joint bid succeed, the two nations will need to build new stadium to meet the requirements of CAF as the Bid technical committee has alluded before; therefore the two associations could make an appeal for extra funds to FIFA.

The report further says where a member association uses funds allocated for specific projects to improve or build new football infrastructure for its direct benefit or for the benefit of another entity (e.g. regional associations or clubs), the member association shall also provide, as part of the supporting documents, the FIFA general secretariat with the relevant national land registry certificate or extract confirming that the member association or the other entity is the owner of the land or the agreements confirming the donation, transfer or other form of provision to, or use of land by the association.

When contacted for comment, local sports analyst, Jimmy George said; “Ours is more a lack of vision, than money to finance programs. Regrettably when you lack vision not even USD 8 million can bail you out. Its pity the funds might be used to pay for the past projects that have yielded very little success.”

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