The Feud That Keeps Joe Smokin' Ghosts of Manila - the Fateful Blood Feud between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. by Mark Kram (Collins Willow, Pounds 14.99); Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight - Cassius Clay versus the United States of America. by Howard L Bingham and Max Wallace (Robson Books, Pounds 16.95). Reviewed by Michael Emery
Byline: Michael Emery
Even though it is 26 years since Ali and Frazier played out the last savage act of their compelling trilogy, for Joe Frazier, Ali, according to leading American journalist Mark Kram, 'sits in Joe Frazier's gut like a broken bottle'.
When Ali lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, the fundamentally decent Frazier was heard to say 'I hope he falls in the flame.' The reasons for Smokin' Joe's enduring enmity are examined in this excellent and timely book that takes a long overdue look at the legend of Ali and, with commendable objectivity, bats away much of the romance and mythology that has attached itself to the man.
Now that Ali trembles in his present physical distress by the side of President Bush as an example of all that is best about the Muslim religion, it is easy to forget that Ali was originally a follower of the Black Muslims, an extremist sect led by the Chicago Shaman, Elijah Muhammad, whose segregationist policies were as repulsive as the Ku Klux Klan's.
Ali's ultimate crime, and the reason why Frazier's hatred of him still burns with such intensity, is that Ali played the race card against Frazier, even to the extent of making the worst accusation one black man can of another. Frazier, said Ali, was an 'Uncle Tom.'
Before their fateful last meeting in Manila, Ali screamed that other nations would think all black brothers were animals if Frazier won. 'Joe Frazier should give his face to the World Wildlife Fund. He is so ugly, blind men go the other way.'
Although Ali apologists would claim that the above was simply Ali deploying psychological warfare, it was, and remains, intolerable, racist bigotry.
When Frazier heard about this distasteful rant, he turned to his trainer Eddie Futch and implored him that no matter what happened, he was not to stop the fight. At the end of the 14th round of the most brutal heavyweight fight in history, and with only one round remaining and the fight even, Futch, a humanitarian and lover of the 19th century romantic poets, said, 'Sit down son. It's over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.'
According to Kram, 'The 14th was the most savage of the 41 rounds Ali and Frazier had fought. It brought out guilt that made one want to seek out the nearest confessional for the expiation of voyeuristic lust. …