Thursday, April 16, 2009

Acknowledging Greatness

If you haven't seen HBO's "Thrilla in Manila," it's a must see for boxing fans, Muhammad Ali fans and definitely those of us who grew up during the Golden Age of heavyweight boxing, the 1970s. It's amazing more than 30 years later how much disdain Frazier still has for Ali and even Larry Holmes throws a jab at The Greatest by saying he was overrated as a boxer. What each legend fails to realize, however, is how much they have profited by being part of Ali's lore. How much would we talk about Joe Frazier now if there wasn't Ali attached to it?

And the painful fact for both Frazier and Holmes is that their greatest boxing victories each occurred over Ali. Let's look at Smokin' Joe's career: Just ask yourself, what quality opponent did Frazier really beat besides Ali in their "Fight of the Century." Remember, Frazier only fought 37 times and his most notable victory other than Ali came over Jerry Quarry or Jimmy Ellis, both second-rate heavyweights. Ali made Frazier and Frazier's remarkable night in March 1971 defined not only his career but his life. You have to credit Ali for a portion of that respect.

Now to Holmes. As we did with Frazier, let's look at Holmes' biggest win other than beating a 38-year-old Ali in 1980. I can still remember my uncle believing Ali was pulling the rope-a-dope until about the 10th round. OK, Holmes' biggest wins besides Ali are over an overrated Gerry Cooney, aging Ken Norton, hard-hitting but little else Earnie Shavers (and Ali beat a younger Shavers in 1977) and contenders such as Mike Weaver and James "Bonecrusher" Smith. Not exactly, Dempsey, Tunney and Jack Johnson. So while it is easy to be critical of Ali because of his current state, Frazier and Holmes have to acknowledge that Ali has put more money in their pocket and notoriety to their name than anyone else.

The Greatest has that kind of power -- still.