The combined news of Joe Frazier’s death and Manny Pacquiao/Marquez III happening inside the first half of the month effectively swung the November 2011 odds the way of the professional boxing sport. It must be noted, though, that this is a period many classify as one when such other rival disciplines as soccer, tennis, basketball and golf are either on vacation or on recess.
For once in a long while, football activities in Europe anchored, largely, on the English Premiership and the Champions League took a quiet back seat. So did the vacationing US NBA still deadlock over the Players Association/Club Owners’ feud. Ditto tennis that has already concluded its yearly Grand Slam calendar with neither Rafael Nadal, nor Roger Federer in charge of driving seat.
Smoking Joe Frazier’s death November 7, and his funeral only a week later was an event that touched virtually every heart – ranging from core followers of heavyweight boxing, to fringe supporters of the sport. Arguably, not even the great Joe Louis commanded the presence the much beloved Frazier did in death, going by the proceedings recorded in his adopted Philadelphia. From the old and young alike, this man drew tears that expressed more of triumph and fulfillment, as opposed to grief and relief many expressed for the legendary Louis 30 years ago. He too, was 67.
In a way, Frazier’s passing on touched me much in the same vein as did tennis player Arthur Ashe who was snatched away in full view of a world unable to do a thing about a situation which not even the highest medical knowledge of the time had the solution. It was in the early days of the discovery and advertisement of the AIDS/HIV scourge. The irony of it all was that Ashe, first and so far the only Black player to clinch the Wimbledon tennis Singles, contracted the deadly virus under the most unthinkable circumstance. Here, too, is a case that defies even the best that medical science can offer. Liver cancer, as it is today, is yet another of the world’s listed terminal illnesses with neither knowledge of cause, nor of cure till date. For once, the combative Joe Frazier met a foe he could not figure out. Not even his vaunted hooks could take him to victory this time. But even as the world pays its respects to one of the titans of pro boxing who has departed from our midst – indeed, a true star that has dropped out of the firmament – we take consolation in knowing there’s celebration in Valhalla where Smoking Joe takes his place among the great warriors. In the other corner, the world looks to be at daggers drawn over the conclusion of Manny Pacquiao’s latest ring exploit. From the gambling resort of Las Vegas comes dissenting voices over the human dynamo’s decision win over Mexican challenger Juan Marquez, in the latter’s defense of his WBO welterweight laurels. It was a fixture I had not bothered to pay much attention to – to my own chagrin, I must admit. All through the contest, I was only getting a feed-back from two of my friends living, respectively, in the South South axis. It was not until some 48 hours later that I was able to watch the event.
My views on the contest and the outcome are that a good percentage of the live Las Vegas crowd, as well as agitated millions who saw it on TV are over-reacting to a decision that should cause no more than ripples. The majority decision returned by the three officiating ringside judges was simply a reflection of a fine exhibition put up by two highly skilled craftsmen. Besides, the contest serves as eye-opener to the millions of fanatical followers of the Filipino destroyer accustomed to seeing their idol make mincemeat of every foe he has faced these past three years. It also serves to re-evaluate their man and his chances in the event of the eagerly awaited confrontation with Floyd Mayweather Jnr. I can make no flaws out of Pacman’s weekend performance. Fact is, Pacquiao had so gotten used to confronting and annihilating a long line of opponents – including truly worthy challengers – who had all played into his hands. His meteoric ascension to the top as world’s best Pound-for-Pound fighter is informed by his uncommon, merciless search-and-destroy attitude in the ring to which no rival had an antidote.
Marquez is not one of those foes vanquished without trace. Neither is this challenger like the ones conquered by fear and elect to flee once inside the ring, nor is he like the over-matched victims that were too timid, too scared to fight back. His reputation preceded the weekend fixture, taking into account their two previous encounters of 2004 and 2008. Pacquiao Vs Marquez was, indeed, a pairing of two of the Game’s most skillful practitioners, each acknowledging his utmost respect for the other.
It’s no secret that Pacman had never fancied any desire to court his Mexican rival. It was only the huge financial considerations that informed his acceptance of the fight. At the end, he worked away smiling all the way to the bank for 22 million dollars waiting in his account. Way back in 2004, the two had battled to a memorable draw over 12 rounds, with Pac’s super featherweight title on the line. It was a night that saw Marquez fight back from two knockdowns in the opening round to nullify his opponent’s early advantage. Four years later, Pacman barely hung on to a split decision that was highly debated.
Going into the weekend encounter, Marquez who had been in the shadows since hugely out-pointed by Mayweather in 2009, was instituted a ridiculous 7-1 underdog. Last Saturday in Las Vegas, he made nonsense of his underdog status by keeping the rampaging Pacquiao honest all through the 12 rounds the contest lasted – his forte being his educated counter punching tactics which the champions could not solve.
Pacquiao got my nod on the strength of his aggressive, more industrious work rate, although I found nothing justifying the 116-112 tab returned by one of the judges. But it was a contest that proved the Filipino congressman is also human, after all.