x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ali-Frazier IV: just a circus sideshow

It truly was school playground stuff when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's daughters decided to renew family hostilities.

You will find as they grow up that as a rule children are a bitter disappointment. Their sole objective in life being to do precisely what their parents do not wish them to do and have anxiously tried to prevent... Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier rarely agreed about anything but when their daughters decided to renew family hostilities you can imagine them sighing in unison: "Yeah, that old Queen Victoria knew a thing or two about raising kids."

In public, of course, the two men made all the right noises of support although Ali was not at ringside - he pled a previous engagement - when Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde climbed through the ropes in a tent in the car park of the Turning Stone Casino, Verona, New York, on June 8 2001. But 8,000 "fight fans" did show up, including Smokin' Joe, Sugar Ray Leonard, Emile Griffith and Ken Norton to watch a Los Angeles nail parlour owner (in the Ali corner) swap "blows" with a lawyer and mother of three (representing the Fraziers).

Before the first bell, the two ladies had talked a good fight - invariably a shrewd box-office scheme - Jacqui, in particular, making sure to make mention of all the old Ali-coined insults her dad had never forgiven. Hence the reason Smokin' Joe was moved to say: "If I pass him in the desert and he's thirsting - I drive right by..." By contrast, once the final ticket had been sold and he had peeled off the gloves for the last time, Ali tried to make light of any so-called "feud". "I think the problem with Joe is that he was always a little bit slow in making out whether or not I was being serious or if I was simply putting him on. He was never entirely sure whether he was in on the joke or the joke was on him."

Gentle words never put bums on seats, however, and so the skirmish of the offspring was cynically billed as Ali-Frazier IV as if this exercise in money-making (both "fighters" received US$1million (Dh3.67m) from those foolish enough to press the pay-for-view button on the remote) had anything remotely in common with the three previous epic encounters, finally settled in 1977 by the climactic Thriller in Manila.

"Sit down, son, it's all over," the kindly Eddie Futch told Frazier that night when he returned to his corner at the end of a brutal 14th round. "But no-one will ever forget what you did here today." It had been The Greatest's greatest night. "Man, I hit Ali with punches that'd bring down the walls of a city. Lawdy, Lawdy, he's a great champion," said the loser. "Frazier hit me with body punches that made me want to quit. That fight was the closest thing to death," said the victor.

Fittingly, "Ali-Frazier IV" was held under canvas for, in terms of sporting conflict, Laila and Jacqui were never going to provide anything more than a circus sideshow. Oh, yes, they slapped each other around a bit and did not quite resort to pulling one another's pigtails but truly this was school playground stuff. "It has been a good night for women's boxing," wittered Laila after the Lipstick Letdown. "Even if we did bust each other's heads a few times." Her husband and promoter John McClain was even more satisfied with the outcome having persuaded over 8,000 lost souls to part with up to $200 to witness the "event" in person, not to mention the many millions who followed the "action" on cable TV.

Ah, well, for Laila Ali it was her third successive victory, the previous two having been achieved against April Flowers, a cocktail waitress who survived 31 seconds, and Marion Jones, who stepped into the ring when her son's girlfriend came to her senses and quit boxing before leaving her dressing-room. rphilip@thenational.ae