Painting by Ylli Haruni — From the office of WBC President Dr. José Sulaimán: The following is one of the weekly “Hook to the Liver” columns that are published in El Universal every Sunday. From March 10, translated from Spanish:
By José Sulaimán — 42 Years Ago : Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
Back in February of 1971, I was elected Secretary General of the WBC. I was still very young – 30 years old – and I felt that I owned the whole Planet Earth. I wanted to give my very best for the sport where I had been since being a child. President Velazquez appointed me as supervisor for the most expected fight in the whole world, Ali-Frazier at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
Ali was sanctioned and humiliated by the American Army when he did not step forward to join the Army for the Vietnam war. All boxing and other organisations stripped him of his heavyweight title of the world, while the U.S. government took away his passport. He had been three and a half years away from boxing, waiting on his appeal to be resolved by the courts of law. Ali won the trial and came back to boxing at 28 and a half years of age. What a waste of time !!!
I had passed by New York many times on the old Greyhound buses, coming all the way from Laredo, Texas. I studied for my career in New England. A couple of times I had come to see Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees and had got lost both times at the Metro. I had also come to see the fight between Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, all the times in the bleachers – study years. Today, I was arriving as the representative of the WBC for such a historical fight. I thought of myself as Superman’s father !!!
During the weigh-in on a theatre stage, I was waiting for the boxers to show up. Suddenly, I noticed coming from a dark spot of one of the corners, a giant wearing only an all white robe. He looked like a God !! Bundini and Angelo Dundee were walking by his sides, both great friends of mine later. It was a somehow serious ceremony with Ali making faces to Frazier who just showed a furious face.
The day of the fight, with a multitude by the entrance, I noticed that I had missing from my shirt one of the two beautiful cufflinks that I had bought that day. I was furious. On my way out of the Garden after the fight, I noticed that my other cufflink was also gone !!! New York, New York !!
MSG was full to the lamps with people of all colours and tastes, with psychedelic clothes of all styles and colours, many phosphorescent of music bands. Frank Sinatra appeared pushing Joe Louis’ wheelchair – that provoked a standing ovation for a long, long time. Here was Jacqueline Kennedy with Burt Bacharach, and over there were many politicians, VIPs, artists, and every subject that any one could think of. The “Ali, Ali, Ali” chant from the multitude was thunderous. The announcer mentioned a couple of names, but ended by saying, “And I will not introduce any more, because all of you are here.”
The fight is history. While Ali continuously was mimicking to the public about Frazier, the latter was only going forward like a bull. Arthur Mercante, the best referee that my eyes have seen, was working the fight excellently. Frazier caught Ali with a powerful left to the “button” – the jaw – and down he went to the surprise and shock of the attendants. Ali, the great Muhammad Ali, lost the fight there. A classic boxer-puncher bout that revolutionized the boxing world. The most emotive fight of my life, considering all that went through – the TV interviews, the press, Ali’s verbal aggression on Frazier, New York, the Garden, the weigh-in, the entrance ……. everything, including the fight. A fight to remember forever and ever.
They fought twice again. The first one, won by decision by Muhammad Ali in a 12-round fight. They were 15 rounds at the time. The second fight was done in the Philippines for the WBC Heavyweight Title of the world. It was one of the most dramatic and mutually punishing fights that I ever saw at any time in my life. Joe Frazier, with one eye totally closed and his face all swollen, did not come out for the 15th. His corner did not allow him. Ali, at the moment of knowing the end, threw himself onto the canvas, being totally exhausted for minutes. What a fight !! Two valiants, not to surrender like lions !!.
What touched my heart was seeing Muhammad Ali personaly attend Frazier’s funeral to show the world the nobility of the sport of boxing and the good soul of Muhammad Ali. All those mementos come into my mind of the glorious moments of boxing in the past 40 years. Behind rest so many great fights and fighters that will never return. Also 40 years of pride of my passing through life in boxing ……. a sport that has given my life a special flavour that I will never forget.
Thank you for your kindness in reading my thoughts.
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