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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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Dambe, Tsotso dump Zebras

12th April 2021

Remnant of the historic Africa Cup of Nations squad of 2012, Mogakolodi ‘Tsotso’ Ngele and Botswana’s first-choice goal keeper, Kabelo Dambe, will never embody the future of the Zebras as long as Adel Amrouche is at the helm, WeekendSport has established.

The duo made this confession in the squad secret WhatsApp group seen by this publication, expressing concern and antipathy about playing for the squad heavily polarised by the coach.

It turns out that the coach has players he favours and prefers, many of who appear in the starting line-up as a long lasting promise to be signed under his stable. The aim is to ultimately recruit them to far flung clubs and earn a commission.

Ngele who remains the only player to have scored the Zebras goal (in open play) at the 2012 edition has endured a rocky affair with the coach.

Not much has been established as to why the affair is in tatters but sources claim that it stretched to a point where Amrouche confronted Ngele’s former coaches at Black Leopards to discuss possible options of side-lining him. The idea was to frustrate the player and kill his confidence as the only player Zebras looked up to.

Ngele, under former coach Peter Butler, was named the squad captain but under Amrouche, he has played cameo roles in World Cup and AFCON qualifiers. Ngele has made three appearances and came once as a substitute in all the 10 games Amrouche managed.

Ngele was hoping for his own great leap forward in an effort to end his nightmare and play for the Zebras especially after earning playing time with his new club, Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila.

Do this day, Ngele has made more than 35 appearances for the Zebras since earning his debut in 2009. Away from The Zebras stage, Ngele made significant contributions at Platinum Stars, the first team he signed his professional contract with. In 67 games, he scored 19 times.

Amrouche’s insistency and promise to make a loud impact in this year’s qualifiers did not bear fruit. Part of the blame is shoved on Township Rollers stopper, Kabelo Dambe. He is accused to have failed to stand strong for Zebras and shipped in simpler goals that cost the team to book a flight to Cameroon next year.

A goal against Algeria on home soil and a goal by Zimbabwe last month could have never gone through had he positioned himself better, critics claim.

Dambe who has more than 44 caps and played all Zebras games under Amrouche feels hard done and had hoped the coach and the nation would protect him. He feels the ambition of the country to qualify mirrors a tomorrow that could never come because of his mistakes.

Botswana Football Association (BFA) General Manager of National Teams, Monnakgotla Mojaki when pressed for interview failed to provide details about the future of the two stars.

He expressed concern that he was never hands on when the squad played the qualifiers. This according to Mojaki, was the case because the coach had barred him from mingling with the players.

“I am sorry I cannot assist you with anything, I know nothing and remember I have not spoken to anybody since I was asked not to come to camp,” he shared.

Both Dambe and Ngele are not only equally unhappy but are also equal in age; both are 30 years and have played for Platinum Stars at one point in their careers.

However, there is information to the effect that the duo made a promise to return one day, and that is when the coach has parted company with the association.

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Galaxy star wants out

12th April 2021

Lebogang Ditsile has begun to cast fresh doubts over his future as a Jwaneng Galaxy player. The hard tackling midfielder has handed the club management a transfer request amid rumours linking him with Gaborone United.

This week, the industrious player gave Galaxy an ultimatum -to either improve his contract benefits or let him go- this comes after a decision was taken to offer the whole team pay cuts amid the corona virus pandemic.

Galaxy has arrived at a conclusion of giving each player P3000 until a time football returns to the field.Ditsile, one of the club’ highest paid players is certainly restless and would not want to entertain a second thought over his future.

Galaxy on the other hand is feeling distraught over GU’s constant communication with the player, and are also aggrieved that the Nikholas Zakhem powered team wants to prize away their asset. Ditsile’s contract does not expire until June of 2022.

The situation is not yet explosive but it is believed to have gotten under Ditsile’s skin and it is threatening to turn ugly. Ditsile apparently is the best thing ever to happen to Galaxy and to leave them at this point will surely be a great loss that could take some time for the club to recover.

However, GU is busy making their move for their long-time target and the enterprising midfielder is said to be determined to complete the transfer before the season begins. It is said the player wants to play football without hustles, which Galaxy cannot promise at the present moment, and the allure of GU will certainly prove too much to stay from.

The team led and directed by Zakhem is reported to have promised ‘Tally’ a mouth-watering contract should he voluntarily terminate. It is however noted that GU cannot risk buying the player who is still on a running contract.

It is believed that Ditsile recognises GU as one of the country’s leading clubs, capable of competing for the grandest prizes. In the event of joining GU, Ditsile would have fulfilled his dream of playing for a rich paying club.

He has enjoyed his years at Galaxy, where he is feted by the supporters, but feels that the time is right to move on. It is impossible to dispute the value and service that he has given to the club, with last season being his best.

The fan-favourite, who has had an on and off relationship with the national team, is still held by the terms of his contract while discussions between his agent are continuing behind closed doors.

Those close to developments mention that Ditsile is yet to be shocked by the stubborn position held by the Galaxy; but the club will surely hate losing such a prized possession to their fiercest rivals.

The Galaxy management has a reputation of being tough negotiators but for Ditsile, the offer from GU is one that should be impossible to refuse.On the other hand, GU are mindful of the tactics often displayed by Botswana players.

They have a tendency of bargaining through rival clubs so as to increase salary or force the management to act swiftly.

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Panic ahead of women champions’ league

12th April 2021

The absence of women national league in the country has caused anxiety and alarm at Botswana Football Association (BFA) secretariat. PIC: Soccer Laduma

This is the case because the inaugural COSAFA women champions’ league is about to kick start and BFA is expected to send the name of the team that will represent the country.

As things stand, the association is caught between a rock and a hard place because they are unable to determine the deserving team. The reality facing the association is because its women nation-wide league has never been played since the first corona virus case was registered in March of 2020.

However, the association has devised a plan and a model to opt for a team that will participate in the tournament to be held between November and December of this year. The play offs are expected to commence in August.

BFA has therefore called for an expression of interest from clubs to select the most deserving team.The expression of interest, according to BFA, should cover the club’s financial viability and ability to honour its games (both home and away) without fail. According to findings, the club will need a minimum of P100 00 to play a telling role.

It is therefore highly unlikely that BFA will find a women’s team enjoying such financial freedom. In any case, the association will be forced to offer financial assistance.Township Rollers, Mexican girls and Double Action are the few teams that can possibly be selected, but a huge question mark hangs over their financial disposition.

One other thing needed through the expression of interest is the current books of accounts which will definitely show that the club has been operating. BFA is of the view that this is important because it will help in showing the financial progression of the team.

“We are very pleased with how these events were organized under very difficult circumstances,” COSAFA General Secretary, Sue Destombes said in a statement.

“We take what we learnt in Nelson Mandela Bay into our planning for 2021. We have a full calendar of tournaments at this stage. We are hopeful we will be able to stage them all, even in these most challenging times.

The highlight must be the introduction of the regional Women’s Champions League, which will be a zonal qualifier for the new CAF Women’s Champions League which is coming later this year,” she further shared.

 

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