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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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Kavazovic reveals Rollers plans

26th October 2020
GALABGWE MOYANA AND LEMPONYE TSHIRELETSO

Township Rollers Head Coach, Nikola Kavazovic, has left a note on management’s table addressing the futures of Galabgwe Moyana and Lemponye Tshireletso. The duo had their stay at the club in the spotlight as debate over refreshing the squad raged on.

It is reported that Kavazovic had scheduled talks with the attacking midfielders as he seeks to convince them to stay for one more season at the club. The gaffer wants to turn the club’s pot of gold into silverware one more time.

Moyana had already offered himself to premier league rookies, Masitaoka Football Club.However, Rollers has other experienced players and the expectation is that many titles will still be won.

However, the club has made it known that it wants to traverse a torrid passage of CAF champion’s league, reaching group stages, at the very least.It is in this regard that Kavazovic will wants Moyana and Tshireletso to stay.

He hopes their injury nightmares will be arrested hence they could take leading roles to stir the Rollers ship to victory again.More often than not during the last season, their absence left Rollers struggling.But they too, could struggle to return to full fitness missing the opportunity to drive Rollers back to glory days, alongside the rest of Roller veterans in skipper Maano Ditshupo and Ofentse Nato.

But the team’s insistence and promise to make a loud impact in the coming season is still awaiting confirmation. The duo in particular will have to stand strong otherwise the ambition mirrors a tomorrow that will never come.

Engendered into the multi-million project of Jagdish Shah, the players were recruited to embody the present and future of the club and true to that testament, both have played a pivotal role for Rollers to win more silverware.

The talent of the duo, after reuniting with Kavazovic, should make the case for Rollers to once again make headline impact, particularly in the CAF competition starting next year January. Kavazovic agrees that as a unit they could find an edge as clubs are preparing for a return to the field.

Away from the Rollers stage, both players have won many titles with Mochudi Centre Chiefs and are still loved by their followers.When reached for comment, Rollers media liaison officer, Phempheretlhe Pheto, said there are in fact four players who were supposed to leave the club.

He said all will be decided after talks are completed as each player will face the management about the way forward.“It is not only the two guys, they are about four players whose contracts have expired but each one of them is expected to negotiate with management. Their future will be determined by the outcome of the talks,” he said.

The other two players are Kaone van der Westhuizen who is playing as a left back as well as Bogosi Nfila who was signed to bring goals.

 

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Ramoraka’s situation at TS Galaxy explained

26th October 2020
Lesenya Ramoraka

Botswana international defender, Lesenya Ramoraka’s situation at TS Galaxy has been explained by his agent Tumi Gabonamong.

The 26 year old defender found himself in a tight situation after his club; Highlands Park’s status was bought by renowned football agent Tim Sukazi of TS Galaxy.

The sudden changes meant that some players were to be released by the team to accommodate new recruitments and changes at the club. As the club status was acquired, Ramoraka’s contract at Highlands was left with a year and the club opted to keep him despite spending much time on the side-lines due to injuries.

According to Gabonamong the lanky left back is part of the new TS Galaxy team although he was not included in the team list for this season. As per information gathered, Ramoroka will only be registered with the team in the next transfer window slated for January.

“He is very much still part of the team. He is currently nursing an injury he sustained during the bubble games. He will of course start training end of November or beginning of December. They’ll only register him in the next transfer period, he’s part of the team,” said Gabonamong.

Ramoraka has proven himself since joining the team in 2018 from Orapa United. Lee as Ramoraka is known in football circles has so far played 29 games for the team, netting only once.

“Ramoraka is one of the players that survived the changes at the team, remember the team doesn’t have many left backs and he is a quality player having so far cemented a place in the starting line-up. I believe after his injury he will fight for a place as usual.

That is why the team kept him therefore people shouldn’t worry that he is not registered this season.There is no need to register a player when you know he will be out for some time. It is only advisable for you to offer him more playing time more especially that he is a foreigner this side.

Again, his injury is healing and he will come back sooner than later. The aim is to keep him this side even when he might not renew his contract but chances are he will be with the team for some time because they have shown much value on him,” explained the wife of former Zebras midfielder, Mogogi Gabonamong

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Tshosane vs Sebego: Water under the bridge?

26th October 2020
RECONCILED?Former Zebras Coach Tshosane and former BFA President Sebego

RECONCILED? Former Zebras Coach tshosane and former BFA President Sebego

In the build up to the Botswana Football Association (BFA) National Executive Committee elections, former Senior National Team Coach, Stanley Tshosane had threatened to sue presidential aspirant, Tebogo Sebego, after the latter made suggestions on national radio that the performance of the national team was appalling during the former’s tenure.

Tshosane, who claimed reputational damage, said a number allegations made by Sebego were baseless and unfounded. Sources say Tshosane was livid that Sebego tarnished his reputation and integrity when he deposited averments on national broadcasters to the effect that the national team performance had reached its lowest ebb before the appointment of Brighton Peter Butler.

The Englishman came to supplant Tshosane just a year after The Zebras returned from their maiden African Cup of Nations edition of 2012.Tshosane was therefore ready to draw first blood and demanded retraction, further threatening a legal route in the event Sebego did not act as prescribed.

According to sources close the developments, Sebego however demonstrated leadership qualities and apologized, letting bygones be bygones. Sources say the former BFA administrators have smoked a peace pipe especially that Sebego’s ambition of becoming president disappeared a fortnight ago when he lost again to MacLean Letshwiti in a tightly contested election.

The animosity between Tshosane and Sebego first played out in 2013 when Sebego’s administration sacked the former coach, giving one simple explanation that he was failing to inspire the collective belief within the national squad.

It is said that Tshosane never forgave the past administration for firing him especially that he was on sick leave at the time the letter was delivered to him by the then Chief Executive Officer, Keith Masters. Tshosane was fresh from penning a new deal when he was terminated. At the time he sought legal redress claiming prejudice.

It is not yet clear if Tshosane and the BFA administration have ironed out their differences. When his situation grew precarious in 2013, he felt he was sabotaged by the people he trusted.But sources say the Jackalas number 1 born coach now enjoys a healthy relationship with the association and that is why there is talk suggesting his possible return.

Tshosane was not available for comment as his phone rang unanswered while Sebego refused altogether to share details saying; “I cannot respond to allegations, I mean we need to be respected, this is just senseless.”

Stan, who is now over 60 years, was first appointed to the position of Botswana Senior National Team Coach in 2008, following a short spell as caretaker coach. In 2012, he led the Zebras to their first appearance in AFCON 2012 co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

A year later, in October, after BFA new leadership assumed power and he was sacked for failing to re-write his 2012 success football story. Critics then suggested he was only offered the job because the football association could not afford to hire a better reputable “name’’.

Stan had previously been assistant to the Serbian mentor, Veselin Jelušić, as well as English manager, Colwyn Rowe, for the national team.

Whilst working as an assistant for the national team, he had also been manager of the Botswana Defence Force XI (BDF XI) for a lengthy spell. Stan had also played for BDF XI in his glory days as a football player.

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