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.
Debswana injected P40 million into sports
Debswana, the leading diamond mining company in Botswana, has made a significant investment in sports development over the past five years. With a total expenditure of over P40 million, the company has demonstrated its commitment to promoting and supporting sports in the country. This was revealed by Andrew Motsomi, the Managing Director of Debswana, during the BNSC annual sponsors night.
The funds were disbursed to various National Sport Associations (NSAs) to aid in their preparations for regional and international sporting competitions. The Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) organized the sponsors night to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of businesses and individuals to the development of sports in Botswana.
Debswana was honored with the platinum award, the highest recognition given by the BNSC, for its outstanding contribution of over P4 million to sports development in the financial year 2021-2022. In his keynote address, Motsomi highlighted the challenging global economic climate, with many companies implementing cost-cutting measures due to the effects of COVID-19, geopolitical challenges, and elevated inflation. Despite these challenges, Debswana remains unparalleled in its commitment to sports development.
Motsomi emphasized the importance of sports in the economy and the nation’s pride, as outlined in Vision 2036. He urged the BNSC and NSAs to adopt innovative and sustainable methods of commercializing sports in Botswana. This includes monetizing initiatives such as promoting athletic events internationally to optimize the sport value chain.
One notable contribution by Debswana in 2022 was its partnership with the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA). The company announced a P9 million sponsorship for the BAA, spanning three years from 2022 to 2025. The BAA will receive P3 million annually to prepare for major events such as the Africa Championships, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, World Junior Championships, and the road to the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Debswana also sponsored the Botswana Boxing Association (BoBA) awards with a generous amount of P412, 000. The partnership between Debswana and BoBA began in 2010, with the sponsorship steadily increasing over the years. The mining company’s support for grassroots development was evident in its P6 million sponsorship for the Re Ba Bona Ha sports development program, spread over three years from 2022 to 2024.
Football has also received significant support from Debswana. The company’s sponsorship has strengthened the Botswana Football Association’s (BFA) capacity to run leagues, organize tournaments, and develop grassroots programs. In the 2022/2023 season, Debswana renewed its sponsorship of the Botswana National First Division League (NFDL) with a contribution of P3.9 million.
Debswana’s contributions have played a crucial role in promoting inclusivity and gender equality in football. The company actively supports women’s football initiatives, empowering female footballers and providing them with opportunities. This commitment has led to the rise of successful women footballers in Botswana, inspiring a new generation of aspiring sportswomen.
Furthermore, Debswana demonstrated its support for the senior women’s national team by taking care of their camping needs before their maiden appearance in the 2022 WAFCON tournament in Morocco. This patriotic gesture provided the team with intensive training to prepare for the continental showpiece.
According to the BNSC, Debswana’s injection of over P40 million into sports development over the past five years showcases its unwavering commitment to promoting and supporting sports in Botswana.
The company’s contributions have benefited various sports associations, including athletics, boxing, and football, and have played a significant role in fostering inclusivity, gender equality, and national pride. Debswana’s dedication to sports development sets an example for other companies and organizations to follow, ensuring the continued growth and success of sports in Botswana.
Botswana’s Paris Olympics dream in tatters
Botswana’s dream of sending a strong contingent to the Paris Olympics in 2024 seems to be a pipedream at this point. With just eight months left until the prestigious event, many athletes are still struggling to qualify, raising concerns about the country’s representation at the world’s biggest sporting event.
Looking back at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Botswana had a team of 16 athletes competing in various sports such as athletics, swimming, judo, and boxing. It was a successful year for local sports, as multiple sporting codes secured a spot at the Olympics. However, in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was plagued by multiple postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Botswana’s qualification numbers slightly decreased, with only 14 athletes representing the country in athletics, weightlifting, boxing, and swimming.
One of the main issues facing sports development in Botswana is the neglect of certain sporting codes, particularly those involving jumps and other field events. This lack of focus on these disciplines puts the country at a disadvantage when it comes to ensuring a larger number of representatives at events like the Olympics.
In terms of athletics, Botswana has a strong track record of producing top-quality athletes. Letsile Tebogo, for example, won two medals (silver and bronze) at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Tebogo, along with Bayapo Ndori, Leungo Scotch, Busang Collen Kebinatshipi, and Tshepiso Masalela, have already qualified for the upcoming Olympics. However, the female athletes and others are still waiting for their chance to secure a spot in the 2024 calendar.
The situation is even more dire in boxing, as the local pugilists had a difficult outing at the Paris 2024 Boxing Africa Qualifiers held in Senegal in September. Most of the boxers were eliminated in the preliminary rounds, with only Keamogetse Kenosi making it to the quarterfinals before being knocked out. With two more qualification tournaments scheduled, there is still a chance for redemption, but the Botswana Boxing Association is awaiting the Technical Team Report to determine the final list of competitors.
Weightlifting has also faced its fair share of challenges, with Botswana’s first-ever weightlifting Olympian, Magdeline Moyengwa, forced to quit the sport due to unforeseen circumstances. The lack of funds has been a major setback for the weightlifting federation, making it difficult to secure a spot at the Olympics. Currently, only Alphius Kagiso is expected to compete at the Africa Senior Championships and the World Cup, which are crucial for Olympic qualification.
Judo, unfortunately, seems to be in a poor state as well. The lack of funds and inactivity have prevented judokas from competing and gaining the necessary points for qualification. Despite having potential athletes such as Tumiso Phuthego, Botho Babutsi, Lorraine Pulamoeng, and Tirelo Lekoko, the Botswana Judo Federation has been unable to secure the funds needed for them to participate in qualifying tournaments.
In conclusion, Botswana’s dream of sending a strong team to the Paris Olympics in 2024 is currently a pipedream. The lack of qualification in various sporting codes, including boxing, weightlifting, and judo, is a cause for concern. The neglect of certain disciplines and the financial challenges faced by sports federations have hindered the development and participation of athletes. However, there is still hope for redemption with upcoming qualification tournaments, and the athletes and federations remain optimistic about their chances of securing a spot at the Olympics.
BAA nominated for Member Federation Award
The Botswana Athletics Association has been nominated as one of the six finalists for the Member Federations Award at the upcoming World Athletics Awards 2023. This recognition is a testament to the association’s outstanding work and accomplishments throughout the year, which have positively contributed to the growth and profile of the sport.
One of the association’s notable achievements in 2023 was its work with sprinter Letsile Tebogo. Tebogo, a 20-year-old athlete, emerged as a rising star in the world of athletics. As a two-time world U20 100m champion, he showcased his talent and dedication by becoming a senior world medallist. Tebogo claimed the silver medal in the 100m event and the bronze medal in the 200m event at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. His remarkable performance made him the first African man to win a 100m medal and the first man from Botswana to win a medal in any event at the World Athletics Championships.
Tebogo’s success is a testament to the Botswana Athletics Association’s commitment to nurturing and developing local talent. By providing the necessary support and training, the association has played a crucial role in shaping Tebogo into a world-class athlete. His achievements serve as an inspiration and positive role model for aspiring athletes not only in Botswana but also across the African continent.
The Member Federations Award recognizes a Member Federation that has distinguished itself through its accomplishments and contributions to the sport. The six finalists were nominated by each of the six area associations, highlighting the exceptional work done by these federations.
Among the other nominees is Athletics Australia, representing Oceania. Australia had a remarkable year, hosting the World Cross Country Championships and the Maurie Plant Meeting, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold event. Australian athletes also achieved great success at the World Athletics Championships, winning six medals, including a gold medal in the pole vault by Nina Kennedy.
Chile’s Federacion Atletica de Chile, representing South America, has made significant strides in promoting athletics in the country. Hosting the Pan American Games and organizing five World Athletics Continental Tour Challenger events, the federation has doubled athletics participation in Chile. They have also focused on training officials and developing their Kids’ Athletics program.
The Real Federacion Espanola de Atletismo, representing Europe, had a successful year with their athletes winning five medals at the World Athletics Championships. The federation introduced innovative formats and projects at national and grassroots levels, while also working towards key objectives of the World Athletics World Plan.
The Athletic Association of Thailand, representing Asia, played a crucial role in hosting the 25th Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok. They have also established the Asian Athletics Association’s headquarters at Thammasat University, where development activities are held for the entire region. The association is actively working on developing athletics at the grassroots level and is a participant in the Kids’ Athletics program.
Lastly, USA Track & Field, representing NACAC, had an exceptional year with their athletes winning 29 medals at the World Athletics Championships. They topped the medal table and achieved championship and world records. The federation also focused on grassroots programs, coach and official development, and growing commercial revenue for the sport.
The winner of the Member Federations Award will be announced in early December as part of the World Athletics Awards 2023. Each of the nominated federations has made significant contributions to the sport of athletics and has positively impacted their respective regions. Their dedication and achievements serve as an inspiration to athletes and sports enthusiasts worldwide.