Monday, November 7, 2011

RIP — ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier



A Fiscal Tragedy

   Joe Frazier reminds me of a guy who lit a match to see if his gas tank was empty.
   In the gallery of serious miscalculations of history, his has to rank with the captain who chose the iceberg route for the Titanic. Or the guy who bought into the market on Oct. 20, 1929.
   It's a financial catastrophe the ripples of which become tidal at the out edges. Joe took a lot of people with him.
   His gamble in fighting George Foreman for what was, effectively, 20 cents on the dollar (compared to what he could have pulled down fighting Muhammad Ali) is a fiscal tragedy for Ali, Frazier and Jack Kent Cooke, who now holds the rematch contract on a bout that has depreciated faster than a new car driven around the block — or off a cliff.
   Joe torched $20 million. It's like selling a house with oil under it, dropping Man O' War into a $2,000 claimer, trading a diamond in on paste. Frazier discounted the heavyweight championship of the world. His parent holding company, Cloverlay, Inc., now becomes officially "Overlay, Inc." The total assets of the company were one left hook on which delivery was not made. There's not even enough left to auction off. The managing director of the corporation, Yank Durham, made a serious marketing error.
   Joe Frazier was made to order for George Foreman, who is what is known in the fight game as a "waiter." Come to Foreman and he will destroy you. Move around and he looks like a guy lost in a blizzard.
   One of the best kept secrets of the Philadelphia gym is that Joe Frazier never was what is known as a fighter-who-can-take-it. Frazier, for all his reckless fury, was aground more often than a near-sighted whale. Who an forget the night the late Eddie Machen, out on his feet, out of condition, rubber-legged and noodle-armed, nevertheless chopped in a right hand that made Frazier sag all the way to Machen's ankles, where he saved himself a count only by hanging onto them till the bell rang?
   Recall the night a so-so puncher named Manuel Ramos lifted Joe four feet in the air with an uppercut? Did the clumsy Oscar Bonavena put him on the floor twice? What about the night Scrap Iron Johnson, a human punching bag, staggered Joe? People forget Quarry took the fight to Joe when Jerry might have been a "waiter" with different results. Frazier sometimes has to hang on in a workout with a heavy bag.
   There is no doubt Foreman is a massive puncher, but all he had to do in Jamaica was hold his enormous arms out at right angles to his body and let Joe Frazier impale himself on the end of them. Frazier came to him like something swinging off the end of a chain.
   I sat with impresario Jack Kent Cooke the afternoon of the fight. The promoter now has the exclusive rights to an attraction about as compelling as frost warnings. "You are going to lose $2 million tonight," I hazard. "I think you're right," Cooke said. "Tell me, why do you think Yank Durham took a fight with a man as dangerous as this Foreman?"
   I shrugged. "Some guys put their fingers in the cage at the zoo. Some guys steal alligators, ride sharks or walk across a chasm on a piece of dental floss."
   Frazier topped them all. His mother should have pinned the title inside his blouse and said, "Now, Joseph, this is the heavyweight championship of the world. It is worth $5 or $8 million. Don't take it out to bet with strangers on the train or put it up for collateral on a crap table — and don't fight George Foreman. A lot of people are depending on you — program printers, ticket sellers, ushers, theater chains and Howard Cosell."
   And Jack Kent Cooke, who now is just another bidder on a Foreman-Ali fight which will be a good one only if Ali wears a bell. Or drops bread crumbs. Otherwise, it'll be more a hunt than a fight. Maybe they should let George bring a pointing dog in the ring with him.

*Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation | P.O. Box 995 | La Quinta | CA | 92247


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