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The fight comes none too soon for U.S. boxing fans. They have been starving for real action. Killed off by the overexposure of boxing on TV in the 1950s, the small fight clubs once so vital to the development of new talent are sorely missed. Of the ten professional world titleholders, only three are Americans; increasingly, championship fights in the lighter ranks of boxing take place before crowds in Rome or Bangkok or Mexico City, rather than in the Garden or the Miami Beach Convention Hall. Even among the heavyweights—a division that remains pretty much an American province—the really good fighters are too few and too colorless.
Moreover, the Ali-Frazier match is the classic ring encounter: boxer against slugger. At 6 ft. 3 in. and 215 lbs., with the elusive speed of a middleweight and a basic hit-and-not-be-hit strategy, Ali may well be the most graceful big man in boxing history. Frazier, who will spot his rival 3¾ in. in height, a crucial 8½ in. in reach, and 10 or so lbs. in weight, is a swarming, wade-in, bull ish brawler who willingly takes a punch or ten for the chance to score with his bludgeoning left hook.
Play Up the Disparities
The fight has become a classic in an other way. Shrewd prefight publicity has turned the billing into Frazier the good citizen v. Ali the draft dodger, Frazier the white man's champ v. Ali the great black hope, Frazier the quiet loner v. Ali the irrepressible loudmouth, Frazier the simple Bible-reading Baptist v. Ali the slogan-spouting Black Muslim. Frazier, who is generally as impassive as a ring post, would have it otherwise, but he has no choice.
Ali, with his usual mix of con and conviction, plays up the disparities at every turn. "I'm not just fightin' one man,"; he preaches. "I'm fightin' a lot of men, showin' a lot of 'em here is one man they couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30 million black people. I'll win this fight because I've got a cause. Frazier has no cause. He's in it for the money alone." Caught in the crossfire, Frazier usually backs off. "I don't want to be no more than no more than what I am." he says. As a friend puts it, "Joe is just Joe." His feelings on the black movement? "I don't think he's ever thought about it."
A Happening and the Slouchies