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!”
Botswana Football Association (BFA) is running without a substantive Technical Director since parting ways with South African native, Serame Letsoaka, who jumped ship midway through his contract in 2019.
This glaring revelation has left the Technical Department of the association hamstrung to fully operate by the book hence a plethora of problems protruding on the very nose of it.
This is the reason it took long for the association to take stern action against Zebras gaffer, Adel Amrouche. His departure was sanctioned at the eleventh hour when players’ patience had long wilted, threatening to leave the camp.
Pundits will therefore observe that it is the absence of a Technical Director that has caused all hell to break loose at Lekidi Football Centre.Since the departure of Letsoaka, the TD position has been more or less vacant as it has been manned by unqualified and somewhat incompetent administrators to date.
The TD position requires a CAF A-License qualification as well as a Diploma in Secondary Education as minimum qualifications. Among the specific duties of TD is; training and development of coaches, including design and updating of coaches manuals, facilitating licensing courses, developing a coaches Code of Conduct, arranging for expert and specialist coaches to deliver training clinics, education on rules of the game and creating and maintaining a library of resources including books, videos and articles for coaches to access.
The responsibility also include establishing and delivering a comprehensive and nationwide Grassroots programme at both the community level, in schools, and in the schools through clubs through strategic partnerships within the communities and with various government ministries and agencies.
TD also advices BFA on all matters related to the effective development of football in Botswana and is accountable for the development of a strategy and policy for the performance of football programmes.
Other duties include working with Youth National teams and coaches through development programmes in order to enable BFA to attain its goals within CAF and FIFA, including putting in place clear systems and processes for identifying and developing talented players.
After Letsoaka left, BFA reached out to Wire Kaelo, a Gaborone United legend currently holding the position of assistant coach at Security System FC, but eventually he was not appointed to the post.
Despite rumours to the effect that BFA had agreed terms with Kaelo to this day, the Association has not come out as to what happened to the alleged marriage.
BFA subsequently appointed one Dr Carolin Braun, on secondment from the German Olympic organisation, a move that left the association rooted in abrasive factionalism.
In particular, local coaches and the general football fanatics have always cried foul claiming that Dr Braun is not fit to hold the position of TD especially in a growing football environment like Botswana.
There is growing concern that Dr Braun does not have the pre-requisite credentials to be appointed for this plum post as she has never held any significant position within the football fraternity, not even at amateur level.
“It was a first in the history of Botswana football to see a TD doubling up as assistant coach to the senior national team and there has been no tangible coaching courses since the departure of Serame Letsoaka and this has been attributable to the vacant position of TD,” a source remarked.
BFA is currently failing to communicate CAF’s decision that the ill-fated CAF “B” and “C” courses held during Serame’s last days were not sanctioned and therefore attendants will not be certificated.
Over 50 local coaches participated in the courses and last year, most of those coaching in the Premier League had to be given waivers by the BFA Technical Committee before they could be accredited.
CAF has since indicated that the issue of waivers by national associations will not be entertained, something which might throw local games into disarray.BFA is still failing to come up with a coaching philosophy despite Serame having started groundwork before his departure.
Other countries such as Zambia have since resumed CAF coaching courses whilst in Botswana is still business as usual despite the impending challenges caused by indiscretion and lack of foresight.
Despite BFA having advertised the position of TD and subsequently holding interviews where recommendations were done by the Technical and Development Committee, the BFA NEC has refused to endorse the recommendation for reasons only best known to them.
Yet, there is a lingering fact that the NEC is clueless when it comes to technical matters. There is not even a single individual in the NEC who holds any coaching qualification including the Chairman of the member responsible for technical and development matters, Masego Ntshingane.
When asked about the position of the TD, Ntshingane said the association is well aware of the matter and will son fill the post. “Yes, it is true the association has not appointed a TD after Letsoaka’s departure, but we are working around the clock to hire capable people,” he said.
However, local coaches believe that it’s a travesty of justice to expect non-technical people to make meaningful contributions on technical matters to the extent that they can veto recommendations from a committee of renowned technical experts.
It is not business as usual in the operations manual of African football. Ever since the ascendency of Dr. Patrice Motsepe to the CAF plum post, the African football governing body is ringing changes to satisfy the demands and governance standards of the modern game.
However, it appears that what is coming out from the high offices of the game is a bitter pill to swallow for local clubs, some of which are touted to be the best in the land.
Connectedly, CAF has issued a circular to the effect that only coaches holding the CAF “A” education license will be permitted to sit on the technical dugout during the upcoming inter club competitions. This communication has been sent to all 54 CAF member associations in May 2021.
However, it seems local clubs have not been appraised on this development even though both Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United have shown desire to represent the country in the CAF competitions.
It comes to the fore now that the two clubs can successfully represent the country if they engage coaches with the pre-requisite qualifications which is now an insurmountable task due to the COVID-19 impact on club finances.
Both clubs have hired coaches who attended the ill-fated BFA conducted CAF “B” and “A” coaching courses which were held in Lobatse almost two years ago.
To date the coaches await the completion of the courses and certificates while CAF has made it clear that the courses were not sanctioned as they were held during the era that coaching licenses were suspended, a situation that BFA was well aware of and has since accepted the consequences.
The BFA is still at sixes and sevens on how to break the issue to the affected coaches as it is likely to cause a huge public embarrassment and backlash from the coaching fraternity.
“We all know about the problem, BFA is promising to come to the bottom of the matter as we continue to engage them,” says Botswana Football Coaches Association (BFCA) interim President, Daniel Nare.
CAF has also made it clear that this time there will be no waiver for coaches without the pre-requisite qualification because the Confederation has been too lenient in the past. During the last CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup, both Galaxy and Orapa United coaches were given a reprieve by CAF Technical Department as they did not even have the CAF “B” license.
When approached for clarity, the Spokesperson for Galaxy, Tankiso Morake said they are playing a waiting game when it comes to CAF issues especially that BFA is yet to reply to their letter. “Honestly, there is nothing concrete I can share because no one is certain about anything. We are waiting to be replied by the association so that we can finalize everything,” he said.
While United was not available for comment, it is clear that both clubs will need to hire coaches with the needed qualifications otherwise playing in this year’s edition of African football mirrors a tomorrow that may never come.
A recent study shows that Township Rollers is not only popular within the perimeters of Botswana, but has also made significant steps within the digital football platforms in Africa.
Out of the 70 African football clubs ranked on the African football digital benchmark, Township Rollers comes on the 35th position backed by a massive social media following. The club website records more than 399 000 followers and is seen as the most interactive in the local game.
This is consistent with the recent study conducted by FIFA- world football governing body- that Rollers is the only team locally that makes use of its digital platforms.
Notably, it comes out that the gap between Township Rollers and the rest of the 15 Premier League clubs is abysmal, this therefore works against creating a strong BPL brand value.
Rollers is the only club with more than 50 000 followers on Facebook, more than 20 000 followers on Twitter while its Instagram platform stands strong at 27 800 followers.
However, it is found out that much of the BPL brand value is killed by some social Facebook football fan accounts. They have stood long and have thus attracted more followers than the official accounts. Pages like Killers Pass and Botswana Football have consequently seen more than 100 000 following. Both of the accounts give 24 hour on-going updates of football’s latest news, transfers, results, video and live updates.
FIFA has therefore come to a conclusion that the two social media pages have grown interactive since they incite followers to answer and present their impressions about local football.
It comes into the open that 70 percent of domestic premier league clubs do not have official websites. This according to FIFA, kills the brand and visibility of clubs hence failure to attract lucrative sponsors by the clubs. FIFA also found out that the remaining 30 percent of clubs with websites are lacklustre and found wanting when it comes to their online presence. But in this regard, Rollers is on pole position.