Britain has a new middleweight champion in Wokingham’s Felix Cash. In a superb display at the famous York Hall, Bethnal Green, east London on Saturday night (24th) the punch perfect Cash literally ripped the title from Battersea’s Denzel Bentley who was making his first defence of the 11st, 6lb (160lb) title.
Broadcast live on BT Sport the power punching Cash entered the contest with the Commonwealth title and a 13-0 (9 KO) record. Much was expected of the contest in the pre-fight build up, after Bentley had spectacularly won the title from Mark Heffron last November, and looked set for a long reign.
Cash dominated from the opening bell as Bentley struggled with his balance and was wobbled by a big left hook 30 seconds in. Cash was clearly intent on taking the fight to the slight looking Bentley and pressed to clearly win the first round. Bentley had a bit more success in the second as he regained his composure, arguably sharing the round.
Cash took control in the third and mid-round pushed Bentley to the ropes and landed a big right hand followed by four heavy consecutive blows in rapid succession to leave referee Victor Loughlin no option but to wave the fight over. The official stoppage was 1:24 of the third.
At 28 years old Cash has truly arrived on the world scene and looks set to break into the rankings. In the post fight interview he said “I stunned him in the first round and knew (it was) only a matter of time until I caught him again”. He went on “He wasn’t as awkward as I thought he was gonna be”.
Cash had brought to the ring a good amateur pedigree, being part of the Team GB setup and was making the third defence of his Commonwealth title. Asked what was next he replied “I want the third, I want to get the European”. In today’s era of splintered and fringe world titles that was music to the ears of the traditionalists. If he can keep the momentum gained from this spectacular victory then we’re in for an exciting few years of middleweight action.
Bentley’s record drops to 14-1-1 (12 KO’s) and should come again.
Chief support on the Queensberry promotion was the return of world ranked light-heavyweight Callum Johnson after two years of inactivity following his KO loss to current 12st, 7lb (175lb) king Artur Beterbiev. Johnson similarly blew away Bosnian Emil Markic inside two rounds. Official time of stoppage 2:30.
Now 35 years old Johnson (19-1, 14 KO’s) dominated the whole contest piling into his opponent from the opening bell. His cornerman Joe Gallagher emphasized the importance of Johnson pacing himself at the end of the first round but the Boston, Lincs man clearly wanted to get the job done and send out a statement to British and Commonwealth champion Lyndon Arthur (18-0, 12 KO’s) part of the BT presentation team on the night. This he did in spectacular fashion and the prospect of that and a potential domestic round-robin with come-backing Anthony Yarde is mouthwatering. Whoever emerges from that can rightly claim to have earned a shot at any of the champions in a red hot world light-heavyweight division.
WBA ‘super’ world champion Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s)defends his title in London this weekend on the Chisora-Parker undercard and will give observers a good view as to the depth of the division and skills of the current champions. This is a Matchroom Boxing promotion on Sky Box Office.
Other big news of the weekend was the imminent return of former undisputed world lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KO’s) in Las Vegas on June 26 against Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatini (19-1, 13 KO’s). Lomachenko has been out the ring since losing to Teofimo Lopez in October and his return is much welcome.
Big Ben chimed, the music launched into The Fugees ‘Ready or Not’ and then shifted into ‘Dangerous’. You could be forgiven for thinking you were back in 1990 and the original ‘Dark Destroyer’ Nigel Benn was walking to the ring. But no, a new kid is in town, one that may even surpass the accomplishments of his famous father.
Conor Benn, rising star and now WBA continental welterweight champion has arrived. Reminiscent of his father’s destruction of Iran Barkley, the new ‘Destroyer’ completely demolished his opponent Columbia’s Samuel Vargas inside 1:20 at the Copper Box Arena in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Saturday.
Going in; many rightly thought this was Benn’s first real test and some that he was in too deep, too early. Vargas entered the contest with a 31-6-2 (14 KO) record and having mixed in good company including Errol Spence Jnr and Amir Khan.
The 24 year old Benn, announced from his father’s old stomping ground of Ilford, Essex simply blew the Colombian away.
He looked a picture of pent up, twitching aggression during the ring announcements, in stark contrast to Vargas’ laid back, almost uninterested demeanour. You could’ve thought Benn’s nervousness was at the sudden realization of the challenge. Vargas had talked a good fight coming in, threatening to “break him down and take his soul”, amongst other slurs.
From the opening bell Benn took control and working off his excellent jab landed repetitive concussive blows shaking Vargas early. The jab was followed by pile driver right hands and an impressive array of hooks and uppercuts.
Benn’s shot selection and intensity was breathtaking and his 31 year old opponent never recovered from the onslaught. Referee Michael Alexander had no option but to wave the fight over as continual shots landed on Vargas with nothing coming in reply. Vargas look shocked by the stoppage and there was brief challenge but the stoppage was excellently timed and warranted.
The aggression shown in the fight by Benn continued into the post fight interview broadcast live on BT Sport in the UK. Clearly expecting a harder and longer contest he was still ‘smokin’ when being asked about the outcome. “Give me a proper test, get me Amir Khan” he belted out… “If he wants it, he can have it”.
Summing up his opponent he said “He was there to be hit…so I hit him”…”I’m just putting some respect on the name (Benn)…Give me Shawn Porter, Broner”.
On this evidence you couldn’t fail to be impressed. It was the performance that launched Benn into the mainstream and set welterweights on alert domestically and internationally. True, he only now has an 18-0 (12 KO) record but the manner of the victory will have put earlier critics on notice that this latest Benn is gonna’ ring loud over the next few years.
The difficulty now for Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn is to find the matches that build on this outstanding performance and momentum. Referring to Benn in the post-fight interview he said “After a performance like that, how can you not get excited ?”.
Undoubtedly there are tougher assignments ahead but Conor Benn has arrived.
Irishman Carl Frampton failed in his brave attempt to wrestle the WBO world junior-lightweight title from American Jamel Herring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Saturday (3rd April).
Referee Giovanni halted the contest on 1:40 of the sixth round after a devastating left uppercut had dropped Frampton. Rising on the count of nine the slick champion proceeded to pile on the pressure to cause Frampton’s corner to throw the towel in, much to the challengers contempt. Chief second Jamie Moore knew Frampton had given his all and saved him from any lasting damage. It was no less than the two divisional former world champion deserved.
The classy Herring took control of the opening rounds working off a fine southpaw jab which the Irishman was never able to get inside for any sustained period. Pre-fight there were mutterings of the champion being tight at the weight, carrying a 5ft 10in frame, but the consequences of this never came to fruition. With the exception of sustaining a cut over his right eye in the fourth round Herring was dominant throughout, also dropping his challenger with a ramrod straight left in the fifth.
Frampton’s big mistake may have been to try to box Herring from the outside early in the contest, feeling his way in and dipping under the jab looking for openings rather than immediately taking the fight to the American. He was far too tentative in the early rounds, perhaps being zapped by some of Herring’s earlier power shots, giving rise to this caution. This writer expected Carl to be the superior boxer on the night, certainly technically, but admittedly was way off the mark for as long as the fight lasted.
Both fighters were pure class throughout the pre-fight build up of this much delayed contest. This continued on its completion with the devastated Frampton immediately retiring from the sport in an emotional post-fight interview. He dedicated the fight to his recently passed first trainer Billy McKee and his future life outside of boxing to his family. Referring to Herring he said “I got beat by the better man, I really struggled to get inside him”.
Herring, understandably ecstatic responded in reference to his challenger “I’m honoured to share the ring with him”. He explained it had been an “emotional rollercoaster just to get here” after twice testing positive for COVID-19 in months leading up to the fight. The ex-US Marine went on to say he had plans to move up (to lightweight) but would remain in the 130lb (9st 4lb) division if (big) fights became available. The 35 year old’s record rises to 23-2 (13 KO’s).
On a performance level the night belonged to the American but Frampton left the sport on his shield, rising from two knockdowns (the latter at the count of nine) and always being competitive. He has completed a stellar career capturing divisional titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight and performing in the boxing meccas of Madison Square Garden, New York City and Las Vegas. Not to forget the magical nights on British shores when he took his first title from Kiko Martinez in the Titanic Quarter, Belfast in September 2014 and unified it in a hostile Manchester Arena against Scott Quigg in 2016.
Frampton is a fighter who never failed to enter the lion’s den to challenge for championships. Further witnessed by his epic two fight series with Mexican-American Leo Santa Cruz in the United States and unsuccessfully tacking Josh Warrington for the IBF world featherweight title in his hometown of Leeds.
He finishes with a record of 28-3 (16 KO’s), two divisional world titles and Ring magazine fighter of the year for 2016. Carl’s legacy is secured in British and Irish boxing and will remain an inspiration to aspiring fighters who emerge from the tough streets of Belfast and the island of Ireland.
Enjoy your well earned retirement and thanks for the memories.
Saturday night (3rd April) in the grand setting of Caesars Palace Bluewaters in Dubai, UAE and screened live in the UK on Channel 5 Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton attempts to make boxing history. He will meet ex-US Marine Jamel Herring for the American’s WBO world super-featherweight (130lb/9st 4lbs) crown.
So what, you might say. Well, this is it.. Frampton will aim to win a world title in a third weight class having won titles in the 122lb (8st 10lbs) and 126lb (9st) divisions. No fighter from the island of Ireland has done this in boxing history and very few from the British Isles – Croydon’s Duke McKenzie, Scotland’s Ricky Burns and Cornishman Bob Fitzsimmons over 100 years ago being the exceptions. This would be an outstanding achievement for the 34 year old Frampton and bookend a magnificent career.
The Belfastman boasts a 28-2 (16 KO’s) record which has seen him scale the heights of the sport. After a stellar 2016 in which he unified world titles at super-bantamweight and won the featherweight title in a New York dust up with Leo Santa-Cruz he was awarded The Ring magazine fighter of the year – the recognised highest accolade in the sport.
He was later to narrowly lose his title in a rematch with Santa Cruz and lose a domestic clash with former IBF world champion Josh Warrington. These are the sole defeats on his record having fought at the top table for close to a decade. A win tomorrow for Frampton would be exceptional but well within his capabilities.
Herring brings a 22-2 (10 KO’s) record into the fight having made two successful defences of a title won in May 2019. He also brings the experience of combat in several real warzones around the world having served as a US Marine.
The fight will pitch the right hand leading southpaw Herring with the orthodox Frampton, so; when fighting in close they will be mirror images in stance. However, most evident will be the height differential, the American at 5ft 10in is a good 5 inches taller than the Ulsterman. How Herring makes 130lbs is a mystery and his lankyness will immediately be apparent.
Frampton, as explained has moved through the divisions and this will be his first real test in the higher weight class. That may be telling but Carl has the elite experience that Herring lacks. True, he was the USA boxing team captain in the London 2012 Olympics but Frampton has fought in better company as a pro.
Both fighters have been inevitably delayed by COVID-19 with Herring in particular testing positive on two occasions but now fully recovered. Frampton has not been so unlucky but ring rust may be a factor for both. The champion last fought in September 2020 and the challenger in August. The period since has been marking time for both after a number of cancellations and venue changes.
Stylistically, Herring is known to work off his jab with lateral movement so will look to win the fight on the outside making rare sorties to engage when the opportunities arise. Frampton has trained as diligently as ever and will look to force the pace and bang away at the long torso of the champion. Carl, for all his aggressiveness is an excellent technical fighter and is unlikely to be outboxed by the American, so if he can get in close repetitively can get success on the inside.
With the champion at 35 years of age the challenger is 16 months younger but Frampton has been in more career ageing fights, the two wars with Santa-Cruz being good examples. Both went the distance with a lot of damage received on both sides. That should be the leveller in terms of comparative ring age and ability to cope in the championship rounds (11 & 12) should the fight go the distance.
In what promises to be an excellent contest between two elite operators, if forced to pick a winner The Undisputed considers the superior ring craft, experience and sheer desire of Frampton to prevail on a split points decision. Should Carl be successful he will join the pantheons of great Irish boxers and may even be considered the greatest. History beckons for The Jackal.
Stop press: Both fighters tipped the scales within the limit earlier today – Herring 129.4 lbs and Frampton 129.9 lbs. We have a fight.
Transmission on Channel 5 tomorrow starts at 22:00 BST. It is also on ESPN+ in the US.
It’s been a long seven months for British heavyweight Dillian Whyte to reflect on what he got wrong in the Matchroom Fight Camp last summer. He knew the only way he could silence the naysayers and regain the momentum lost was to avenge his defeat to Russia’s Alexander Povetkin. This, he emphatically did in the foothills of the Rock of Gibralta on Saturday night.
In a hastily arranged rematch it took Whyte (28-2, 19 KO’s) a mere eleven and half minutes to wipe the slate and regain his lofty position to fight for the WBC heavyweight championship. Povetkin, the 2004 Olympic champion and two time world title challenger was never really in their fight, looking shaky on his legs from the opening bell, and finally succumbing to Whyte’s pressure and heavy blows on 2:39 of the fourth round.
It wasn’t really a story of Povetkin (36-3-1, 25 KO’s), who now at 41 must contemplate retirement, but more a story of how a fighter can recover from a single punch shock defeat, regroup and basically continue where they left off before receiving that blow. Over the four completed rounds Whyte had dominated their first fight and then got nailed by arguably the best single shot of 2020, a left hook cum uppercut. Coming into Saturday’s fight there were many who picked Povetkin to do the same, as rematches historically often go that way.
Whyte however knew in that seven months between fights that he was the better man and it had merely been a lapse in concentration resulting in the defeat. He still though had to prove it and the pressure on him would have been immense on entering the ring.
Ultimately his victory was emphatic and sent a statement out to the leading heavyweights and world sanctioning bodies. In the post-fight interview he cited the sacrifices made over the Christmas period to prepare diligently for the rematch. All time well spent.
Also how close he was to victory last time out “I was so close, and then one lapse in concentration and I made a mistake”. That “mistake” resulted in him losing his mandatory challenger ranking with the WBC. This week they should though do the right thing and re-install the Londoner to a position as their number one contender for Tyson Fury’s championship.
We know the biggest fight in boxing is due to take place sometime this year between three belt champion Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, and that it may result in an immediate rematch. We also know that former WBC champ Deontay Wilder has not fought since losing to Fury early last year and has bitched and moaned about it ever since, not ever indicating his real desire to re-enter the ring. For this he should sacrifice his ranking and Whyte be re-installed.
Boxing politics will dictate when and where the 32 year old Londoner gets his shot at the title, but provided that “mistake” is not replicated in any unnecessary intervening fight, he should challenge the winner of the Joshua-Fury argument. This will likely be early 2022.
After fighting most leading contenders in the last three years Whyte deserves the rest and to watch others battle it out before ultimately being forced to face him. A retaining of his conditioning and desire over that period will be important factors but, don’t bet against him rising from the dust when it finally settles.
Tomorrow night (27th March) in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar, the British territory off southern Spain, recent mandatory contender for the WBC world heavyweight title Dillian Whyte gets the chance to avenge his shock KO defeat last summer to Russia’s Alexander Povetkin. The winner will likely go on to fight for the world title currently held by Tyson Fury, the loser is unlikely to ever challenge for it.
In essence, this is a ‘crossroads’ fight that will determine the immediate, and likely ultimate, destiny of both boxers careers. It is essentially a fight that Whyte has to win to regain momentum and remain a contender. Povetkin is closer to the end of this impressive career than beginning and will seek to replicate his victory for one last shot at the world title following losses to Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua.
Below is a re-post of an article from September 2020 following Dillian Whyte’s original defeat where we considered what was necessary for him to be successful in the rematch.
Tomorrow we will find out.
The event promoted by Matchroom Boxing will be shown live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK.
The Road to Recovery
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston S Churchill
The sport of boxing in many ways is a metaphor for life. A long and glittering history is resplendent with heroic moments (Joe Louis’ victory for ‘good’ in spectacularly knocking out Max Schmeling in 1938, Muhammad Ali regaining the heavyweight title at 32 in the depths of the African jungle, Diego Corrales pulling himself off the canvas to stop Jose Luis Castillo in 2005, to name but a few).
Careers are marked and emphasized by peaks and troughs, losses and redemption (Roberto Duran’s destruction of Davey Moore in 1983 after the ‘No Mas’ humiliation) and; inevitably losses again. Ultimately a defining, and maybe devastating loss, provides a suffix to a career that is on full consideration, either deemed a success or a failure of some sort.
Failures or losses, as in life, are part of boxing. The important thing that defines a fighter at the end of their career is when this loss came, the manner and circumstances under which it happened, and most importantly, if and how the said boxer recovered professionally (or maybe sadly didn’t) from the loss.
A loss in early career can cause circumspection, self-analysis and the boxer to really consider whether the sport is for them. If a fighter is to persevere and resume their career there are good precedents to observe. The sport is littered with examples of when a boxer has lost their professional debut and then gone on to have an elite career, and in some cases ultimately end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Consider the careers of Alexis Arguello, Bernard Hopkins to illustrate this.
Some of the most difficult losses to deal with occur in mid-career, particularly when everyone expected you to win and move onto the next level or a title shot. This is what I wish to examine here.
A little over two weeks ago we saw British contender Dillian Whyte, after spending the oft quoted 1,000 plus days in the WBC sanctioning body’s mandatory position for a world title fight, lose in devastating fashion to Russian Alexander Povetkin. This followed hot on the heels of Anthony Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019 when he famously lost his multiple world titles.
Dillian, in his case was clearly ahead in the fight, dropping his opponent twice in the fourth round to then proceed to get knocked out by one devastating left hook-cum-uppercut around his guard in the following round.
This marked Whyte’s second pro defeat after coming up short against Anthony Joshua in December 2015 and rebounding over the intervening years to secure his mandatory contender status. The Brixton ‘Body Snatcher’ will know the risks and fragility of the sport but also the stark nature of the Povetkin defeat will reassure him that it was a one punch knockout, that certainly in the heavyweight division, can happen to the best of them.
He will know that he was ahead in the fight and a momentary lapse of concentration gave an elite heavyweight (certainly by virtue of Povetkin’s amateur accomplishments and company mixed with as a professional) the opportunity to land the defining blow.
Povetkin is no mug, but Whyte will need to re-group again to prove that the defeat is a mere ‘blip’ in his developing career. In fistic terms the Brit whilst an elite heavyweight from recent competition and by virtue of his world ranking is still a ‘work in progress’ with a 27-2-0 (18 KO’s) pro record but no amateur career of note. Most of his skills have come ‘on the job’ and honed from early life across the streets of south London.
Rather like Anthony Joshua proved in avenging the Ruiz defeat, and Lennox Lewis before him on two occasions, a loss mid-career, whilst temporarily derailing progression, in many cases is not career defining. It is most likely Dillian has the fortitude and experience to believe he can avenge that defeat, regain the mandatory contender status and still fulfil his aim of gaining the world heavyweight title.
His strength of character as a boxer has not been in question before, rebounding in spades from the Joshua defeat, showing the resilience and skills to come through difficult moments in fights since, and also deal with the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) allegations and WBC ‘politrics’ over the last year.
The most important considerations will be; firstly to secure the rematch (apparently there was a clause in the original contract so this is a given), the date and timing of the rematch, how he will plan to rectify the shortcomings that resulted in the defeat, and finally how his opponent enters the rematch.
Whyte has gone on record saying “I think Povetkin was more surprised he stopped me than I was”. The impact of the victory on the 41 year old Russian could go one of two ways. It could serve as motivation to repeat the feat and fight again for a version of the world title, or it could lead to a complacency in preparation and on the night that a second victory is inevitable. Look no further than Andy Ruiz conditioning and state of mind when entering the rematch with Joshua.
One would point to Povetkin’s amateur career and the discipline required to fulfil his potential there and that fact that his conditioning is generally top level, to illustrate that a Ruiz-like repeat is unlikely. Dillian will therefore need to be sure to enter the rematch in the right frame, both in body and mind.
Whyte will know this. In the unlikely event of him not, his training team and the camp they engage in will emphasize this point. Once the rematch is secured good preparation should lead to a re-focus, the aforementioned self-analysis and a strategy being developed and ultimately executed that avoids him being felled by what appeared to be an opportunist punch, although there are some who consider this a planned strategic victory for Povetkin.
Dillian needs to look no further than the earlier stated Brits but also the courage and perseverance shown by Frank Bruno in the 1980’s and 90’s in coming back from devastating defeats on numerous occasions to win the WBC heavyweight title at a fourth world attempt in 1995. Other examples in the biggest division could be illustrated by Floyd Patterson regaining the title from Ingemar Johansson in 1960, and even the greats of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson who came back from highly publicised defeats to regain the heavyweight title.
The important distinction in this case is that Dillian Whyte has not fought for the title yet, he remains a contender, albeit one that has recently lost his number one status. If all is reflected on, lessons learnt and strategy executed this contender can prove once again that “failure is not fatal”.
The Undisputed sends it heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Marvelous Marvin Hagler the former undisputed middleweight champion of the world who sadly passed away in New Hampshire, USA yesterday at aged 66.
Marvin’s life and contribution to the sport of boxing will never be forgotten and will be commemorated and celebrated in due course.
For the casual fight fan the lens of the sport is naturally focused on the big men, generally from middleweight (11st 6lbs/160lbs) up to heavyweight (no limit). The big guys usually attract the attention, and with it, the big bucks.
However, for the aficionado the greater fighters, and frequently fights, are shared across the weight classes and invariably the most momentous battles are fought in those lighter divisions dominated by Hispanic and Far Eastern fighters.
Over recent decades legendary names in the categories from flyweight (8st/112lbs) to featherweight (9st/126lbs) pepper the sport – Sot Chitalada, Carlos Zarate, Ruben Olivares, Alexis Arguello, Azumah Nelson, Manny Pacquiao, and Marco Antonio Barrera to name but a few.
Tonight in the early hours (UK time) two ‘little’ guys will enter the ring in Dallas, Texas in a genuine ‘Superfight’. Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada will defend his WBC and Ring magazine super-flyweight (8st 3lbs/115lbs) title against Nicaraguan four weight and current WBA world champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez. It is a unification contest that promises to be an epic.
What adds intrigue and quality is it’s not the first time they’ve met. This is a rematch of their November 2012 standout junior flyweight contest which Gonzalez won by a hard fought unanimous decision. Many experts thought the contest should have been much closer than scores suggested. Estrada understandably was aggrieved in what was an all out slugfest.
Since then, a rematch has been inevitable as both fighters have moved through the divisions with outstanding success. Estrada brings a 41-3-0 (28 KO) record into the ring, Gonzalez 50-2-0 (41 KO).
‘Chocolatito’ at one point was The Ring pound for pound #1 (the recognised highest honour in the sport) having won titles in three weight divisions and only first tasting defeat in his 47th pro fight. Now 33 years old the man from Managua is entering the twilight of his career and this could be his ‘last hurrah’. However, on achievement to date he is a first ballot entrant to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and a win tonight would be the zenith of his accomplishments.
‘Gallo’ Estrada at 30 years old is a two weight world champion and has a winning record of 8-2 (5 KO’s) in world title fights. Two of his only three losses have been avenged, with the current exception of Gonzalez. His motivation for winning this fight is unquestioned and in defeating Gonzalez he would elevate himself to similar iconic status.
Billed appropriately ‘Repeat or Revenge’ by promoters Matchroom Boxing and streaming platform DAZN who will transmit the bout , it is a must-see contest and well worth setting your alarm clock for a likely 3.00 GMT start and paying the £1.99 subscription fee. The undercard is also excellent with eleven ‘world’ titles on the line during the evening, including an eagerly awaited female undisputed world welterweight rematch between USA’s Jessica McCaskill and Colombia-born Norwegian Cecilia Braekhus. This is an elite grudge match that promises much.
The Undisputed expects the Estrada-Gonzalez main event to complement their first encounter and live up to the eager anticipation for their rematch. For a prediction, look for the younger Estrada to outwork Gonzalez and emerge victorious on the night probably by unanimous decision. Expect knockdowns and lots of drama on the way though !
Exactly 50 years ago tonight, roughly around 3:00 GMT, the first bell sounded for an event that’s gone down in the long annals of sporting history as one, if not the, greatest of all time. Certainly one that comfortably competes as the greatest of the twentieth century.
On Monday 8th March 1971 in Madison Square Garden, New York City for the first time in boxing history two undefeated champions contested the undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World.
Muhammad Ali (aka Cassius Clay), the so called ‘Louisville Lip’ and soon to be a cultural icon, had only recently returned from three and half years of enforced exile due to his stance against US military involvement in Vietnam. Despite this inactivity he still held a flawless 31-0 (25 KO’s) record and to many was still regarded as the true lineal champion.
His challenge was to 1964 Olympic champion and recently Ring recognised champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier 26-0 (23 KO’s) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The whole world was watching.
The Ring had only ten months earlier finally given up on Ali due to his inactivity and recognised Frazier as their champion by virtue of him beating Jimmy Ellis in a heavyweight elimination tournament.
Despite admittedly showing years of patience with Ali their position was concluded in their May 1970 edition by stating “Elimination of Clay will clear up a heavyweight muddle which hurt boxing throughout the world”. Looking back, how damning that was, and oh for the days of the 1970’s and only two world sanctioning bodies !
Both fighters had goaded each other in the lead up to the fight promoting a rightful claim to be called the Heavyweight Champion. Ali, more forceably and personal than his adversary, and Smokin’ Joe having secretly helped Ali financially whilst he was in exile, tranquil and serene. The history of the time is resplendent with images of Ali telephoning Joe in training camp and turning up at gym sessions to goad and disarm his opponent.
It was, the hype of all hype and grudge match of all grudge matches. Deep down Joe knew that until he beat Ali he would never be universally accepted as the champ.
What conspired was truly an event and fight for the ages.
On that famous early spring night each boxer had secured $2.5 million on entering the ring, a staggering and unheard of amount at the time for two prizefighters, and fought before a live crowd of close to 20,000 and worldwide audience on the basic technology of the time.
Anyone who was anyone was in the arena that night. Legendary tales of Frank Sinatra masquerading as a LIFE magazine photographer and Diana Ross being ejected from the press corp for not having a credential are examples of the draw of the event. To say it was the hottest ticket in town would be a gross understatement.
Around the world people tuned in however they could, from the early hour close circuit showings in cinemas in the UK, to the kinfolk huddled around flickering TV’s in townships of South Africa, and onto the Asian continent and the pampas of South America. This was the fight everyone had to see, or as a minimum, know the result of.
History would record that in a spectacular fight Smokin’ Joe would ‘smoke‘ all night, rocking Ali in the eleventh and dropping him with a devastating left hook in the 15th round to gain a unanimous 8-6-1, 9-6 and 11-4 rounds decision on the judges cards. With it, he would win the now undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World.
Joe would go on to lose the title to George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica by devastating second round KO in January 1973 and ultimately never regain it. He would meet Ali two more times. Once in ‘The Garden’ again in January 1974 with Ali exacting his revenge by unanimous decision, and then more famously, in the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in September 1975, with Ali victorious again in a contest the winner would refer to as “The closest to death” he had come.
But, ‘The Fight’ witnessed in New York City in 1971 became the benchmark to which all Superfights are now judged and nothing has ever come close in terms of expectation and delivery. Tonight before your head hits the pillow spare a thought and prayer for two of the greatest fighters of all time who gave us such joy fifty years ago. God bless them both.