Rewind to December of 1981, and two heavyweight legends who had no business still fighting, were, for whatever reason or reasons, trying to do so. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, two of the greatest heavyweights of all time, two men who had given everything they had to their chosen sport, each creaked their way through a ten-rounder 38 years ago, both fights a gazzillion years away from the epic super-fights “The Greatest” and “Smokin’ Joe” lit up the entire world with.
Ali, more far gone than Joe, mentally as well as physically, fought a decent enough heavy in Trevor Berbick. Ali, at age 39, managed to win a few rounds of the bout staged in The Bahamas, yet he was a shell of himself and the unanimous decision went to Berbick.
A week earlier, Frazier, at age 37, managed to do just a little bit better in his final, needles fight – at least Joe didn’t go home a loser. Facing Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings in Chicago, home town of Jumbo, Frazier escaped with a draw. It was almost as sad a sight as the Berbick-Ali debacle. Almost.
Frazier, who hadn’t fought since being hammered in five rounds by George Foreman in a pointless rematch in the summer of 1976, was overweight (not as fleshy or as lumpy as Ali has showed up looking for the Berbick fight but still out of shape) and his once fearsome left hook had little power. In fact, with no fire in his belly, Frazier’s hooks had no smoke. Slung as though traversing through treacle, the formerly lethal punch did catch Cummings but Jumbo ate what did land and he did so with no ill effects.
Fought as in slow-motion, the bout lumbered on. By the middle rounds, Joe was swelling up around the face and he was bleeding. Cummings, a former jail bird, had a most impressive physique but he was no huge puncher. Still, Cummings had Frazier teetering in the eighth, the former champ taking flush shots and almost being taken out. All that remained of the once great Joe Frazier was his sheer heart. Somehow Joe made it out of the round. He knew then he would never fight again.
Cummings was hard done by when the decision was ruled, yet all thoughts were with Frazier. The hope was he had not pushed his luck too far and that he had suffered no permanent damage during the 30 wholly unnecessary minutes of battle. Thankfully, Joe was okay, at least he was as okay as was possible for a man who had gone though what he had gone through in the ring against fellow titans Ali and Foreman (41 rounds with Ali, seven painful sessions with “Big George”).
Joe promptly retired for good, as had Ali after the Berbick defeat – while Jumbo went back to jail.
Ali and Frazier have both left us yet neither man will ever be forgotten. The same cannot be said of their two final ring outings. Hopefully.