It is the anniversary of Ali-Frazier I, so that will be referenced a lot this week. But I thought this was the better fight for drama. It was closer. Even more than that, it followed much of what had happened in the first fight, but this time Ali executed it better.
The first time, Ali stayed away and made him miss, scoring points, but Frazier did physical damage even while losing rounds. The scoring evened out quickly, Frazier ground him down. Ali had a couple of individual minutes in later rounds when it looked like he might take the fight back, but he had been hit hard too many times. He was damaging Frazier late, because he had better conditioning, but it was too late. He had been hurt too much, and even trading two punches for one was too much.
The second time was like the first: Ali made him miss and scored points and Frazier did land solid body blows doing damage - but this time Muhammed was just a little faster, just a little sharper, so that Frazier didn't hit so often (about 20% less) and Ali scored (10%) more often. Frazier did grind it out and take it back in the middle rounds, but Ali's flurries lasted 90 instead of 60 seconds at this point, and the last two rounds he simply had better endurance and won them both. Unless Frazier knocked him down and changed the course, Ali would have won by an even greater margin had it gone 15.
Those fights always remind me of Hagler-Leonard, the other great matchup of that era.* I favored Marvin, as he was from nearby Brockton and vacationed up in Conway, close to where we camped and where my oldest son got married. We would see him at a distance on occasion, but always with a crowd around. The man was loved up here and I may see things differently because of that. I wrote about it a few years ago:
At the time (1987), I was a Marvin Hagler fan and thought he had won. Watching the fight on film a few years ago convinced me that I was wrong. Boxing matches are not evaluated as fights, they are scored as matches. Leonard outscored Hagler, as I can now see. He outwitted him, even if he didn't outfight him.
Yet I had learned something in the interim that illustrates the outwitting even more. There were the usual negotiations about money and guarantees, which Hagler and his people focused on. He wanted a payday. Because of this, they did not negotiate as hard on the rules of the fight as they might have. A 15-rounder would have favored the stronger Hagler; Leonard successfully negotiated a 12-rounder instead. Heavier (and more usual at 160 lbs) 14 ounce gloves would likewise favor the stronger Hagler; Leonard's handlers arranged for 12 ounce gloves. Lastly, the boxers fought in an extra-large ring, favoring the more agile Leonard over the more powerful Hagler. The fight was so close that it is likely that Hagler would have won if he had had any one of those three advantages. Leonard also psyched him out by talking up how much he was going to slug it out toe-to-toe with Hagler, then dancing away from him for much of the fight. Now that you know these things, you can see them in the fight, even though the announcers do not.
Hey wanted a payday, and they gave away important advantages because of it.
*The greatest matchups come when there are other opponents, whether individuals or teams, not very far in the background. If there are only two great teams in the league year after year and they trade championships, that mostly only matters to them. But when Celtics-Lakers is the final after Philadelphia-Boston in the previous round, or Jordan had a war in Cleveland to even get to the championship, it's different. The first Superbowl came after iconic close games of both Kansas City- San Diego, and especially Green Bay-Dallas in the Ice Bowl. Ali and Frazier both had excellent fights, won and occasionally lost, against other fighters. Thomas Hearns had tremendous fights against both Sugar Ray and Marvin.