By Mauricio Sulaimán
President of the WBC – Son of José Sulaimán
All of us who are passionate about sports enjoy remembering and entering in discussions with friends about sports’ glory moments, those memorable endings of some game, the great stories that lead to debate between what has been most dramatic ending or the greatest performance or who has been the best.
We love making lists of the best and the most memorable. We are fascinated by comparing legends from different eras, debate what would have happened if X faced Y … if Pelé is the best of all time, comparing him with Maradona, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer ever, what would have been the result if he had faced Mike Tyson? Or if Tom Brady is the best QB of all time, then those from the Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana era quickly jump into the conversation.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to get myself into a time capsule. My brother Héctor asked me for a list of fights that I could recommend to watch during these #stayhome days.
After making such list I got trapped into the idea of analyzing some fights as if those were going to happen and didn’t know the result, I immediately went to YouTube, and embarked on a tour of boxing’s glory days at heavyweights. I got fully involved in watching a few of these historic fights without interruption.
It is the first time that I have been able to understand and completely value what I have known for years and always took for granted. The data that I once read and did not totally analyze; the multiple talks I heard to, but did not fully listen. I am so happy I did it, now I have a different view of the greatness of some of the legends off our sport.
I took Ali’s return as a starting point after not boxing for three years following his refusal to go to the Vietnam War.
Putting aside politics, the facts were simple; There is a unified world champion in the heavyweights, the WBC / WBA champ is Joe Frazier and Muhammad needs to regain his championship. The fight was made, the high expectations were built and the quality of this bout is one of the best experiences in history.
J.Frazier (26-0) against M. Ali (31-0). Two undefeated heavyweights at their prime.
The show was held on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, New York, with a record ringside broadcast in 12 languages. It broke the world audience record. All celebrities were present, even Frank Sinatra had to shoot as photographer for Life magazine in order to enter the event. Frazier knocked Ali down in round 15, defeating him for the first time, and in so doing he consolidated himself as champion.
Then…J. Frazier (29-0) vs. G. Foreman (37-0). Again, two undefeated heavyweights at their prime.
At the Kingston National Stadium in Jamaica, the show was held on January 22, 1973. Foreman knocked out a Frazier in two rounds, flooring him six times! If you just see the result, you lose the magic, but if we analyze … Joe was the undefeated champion. He had defeated Ali, and he was the firm favorite; while George was the challenger. The combined record: 66 wins, no losses, with 58 knockouts!
George Foreman became the champion by tearing Frazier apart, and continued to knock out his rivals and was considered invincible.
The following year he knocked out Ken Norton, who in turn had beaten Ali. George accomplished this in just two rounds, and then Rumble in the Jungle was announced.
Muhammad, meanwhile, after losing to Frazier remains active with 12 fights in three years winning and defending the NABF championship, a subsidiary of the WBC.
G. Foreman (40-0) vs. M. Ali (42-2). Undefeated champion against a highly regarded Ali.
It happened on October 30, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire, now known as The Congo. The WBC World Heavyweight Championship was contested in the heart of Africa: The Rumble in the Jungle.
Foreman, champion who demolished Frazier and Norton with second-round knockout, both who had defeated Ali, seven years younger and overwhelming favorite in the eyes of the experts. The mistaken underdog, Muhammad Ali arrived in Zaire and went out to the streets, reached the villages and got close to the people; Foreman retreated in his hotel.
Ali won over the local public and that was brilliantly charismatic. He used subtle and sometimes blunt force psychological strategy through minty fresh tactics, and even he hung a bloody chicken leg on the door of his rival’s room.
He also adapted an ingenious yet risky fight plan: to tire and frustrate George. Ali hit him and with his immense strength, leaned in on George. He pushed and pulled him, staying put on the ropes, limiting George`s punching range, expertly shielding himself from bludgeoning George, responding by headhunting with hard laser-accurate, slamming jabs and crunching right hands. Ali spun off the ropes to knock out a bewildered, almost exhausted, comprehensively outboxed and outwitted, yet always valiant George in that legendary eighth round. Ali regained the world championship that politics stole from him, and it was there that the world crowned him as the greatest of all time.
Did you know…?
Boxing is defined by mastery of styles. Frazier beat Ali, but Foreman defeated Frazier. And Muhammad defeated George. Middleweight Marvin Hagler defeated Roberto Duran, yet the latter once defeated Leonard. Sugar Ray Leonard overwhelmed Tommy Hearns, who in turn demolished Hands of Stone; while again Hagler took on Hearns and Sugar Ray defeated Hagler. Styles, strategy, technique and intelligence.
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