THE PAST IS THE PRELUDE
When Joe Frazier fights, you always know where he'll be (smack in front of you) and what he'll be doing (shuffling forward, looking to hook). Ali is unpredictable, even when he's predicting. When they met for the first time, All billed the fight the Return of the Dancing Master, which it wasn't. It was a rousing battle in which Ali alternately hooked with Frazier and lay bizarrely against the ropes (right). Whether he was playing, as Cornerman Bundini Brown claims on page 35, or resting, in the rematch he was all business. Ali says he's going to be deadly serious in Manila. As the next three pages show, he should be serious.
Some people ask me exactly what it is I do. I mean, you always see me right there, in Ali's corner and all. They say that I have so many titles, but what I really am is the assistant to Angelo Dundee. Not an assistant—the assistant, the No. 1 man to him. I was born to do this; you might actually say that I got my job from God, if you know what I mean. Listen, if Muhammad Ali was a cake, I'd be the nutmeg in it. So much for what I do. Now what about the three Ali-Frazier fights?
Ali is confident. He's been confident all along. But don't anybody try to predict or figure out just what he's gonna do when the fighting starts. I don't think anybody knows what Ali's gonna do, even himself. He has a built-in antenna that picks up moods. He's creative. He's not a boxing robot, you know. He is flesh and blood; I mean, one of the flesh-and-bloodest men I ever met.
First fight: we left Miami, and Ali was in superb condition. In New York all those people crushed around and you couldn't even walk in the street, couldn't move in the Garden. So you're a young fellow and you feel all this confidence, plus you have ego and strength. So, with all that confidence, Ali played around with Frazier. Every time he has played around in a fight, he has got hurt. And I can't tell you what he'll do this time.
Remember, Ali has got all these personalities running around inside him. They come and go regularly. Sometimes he's a little boy, sometimes he's a fighter, and you can squeeze a father in there sometimes. Most of all, what you've got is a man who is magic, see, and because he's magic he knows he's got the whole world pulling for him, and that, plus his skill, is now making him cool down a little bit.
Second fight: we had Frazier out in the second round. I mean out! He was on Queer Street—only the referee thought he heard the bell. Listen, I ran right up there outside the ring, and I met Ali halfway down the outside of the ropes, and I reached right in and took out Ali's mouthpiece. I thought the fight was over; I had jumped up around Dundee and everybody. I wanted that mouthpiece out of his mouth when they held up the champ's hand and all. But the referee called them back, and Ali went back fighting without a mouthpiece. And I had to get down out of there and pray for him and hope that Angelo hadn't seen all this and wouldn't get mad at me. Boy, I get nervous a lot, but I was never that nervous. I thought it was all my fault. And then, as the fight went on, I could slowly tell that Ali was born to do it. He got his job from God, too.
And now for the third fight. We are in better condition in every way and we've got a happy camp. Maybe I can't tell you just how Ali is gonna do it, but I can sure tell you why. No matter what you think of Frazier, remember this. Once you beat him, the confidence falls on you and the fear falls on him. It has to, because you've already beat him, see?
Ali just might beat him in the third round. I can't make the picks because I don't do the fighting. But doesn't it make sense? Second fight Ali had him beat in the second round. Third fight, in the third, the way I see it. Gotta be.
For one thing, I remember a little boy, and now I'm seeing a man in the ring. This time I'm going to sing my Float Like a Butterfly song right away. I always sing it sometime, but not right off. And folks ask me, can Ali hear me when he's there in the corner between rounds and I'm leaning over and all the fans are screaming and the place is a loud madhouse? Well, I'll tell you, Ali doesn't hear me so much as he gets a feeling in his head when I sing.
In a fight camp before a fight, it's the confidence. I'll tell you something that nobody else knows. In Za√Øre when Foreman cut his eye in training and they postponed the fight, that was the turning point. Understand now, if only Foreman had stood up and said, "Shoot, don't worry none about this little old cut, it's nothing. I'll fight him right now." If only he had done that, Foreman would have stole the whole show, the whole thing—and taken it away from Ali. But, no. The magic moment passed and all Foreman did was to walk his dog and not say anything, and he lost the confidence; he flat lost it. Even if they didn't let them fight—and they probably wouldn't have—Foreman would have stole it from us. But he gave it all back. Then we were the stars. You play with a man's mind, and his body is gone.
Back to Frazier and Ali. If you understand about the confidence and about stealing the show, you'll understand how it's got to come out. How would you feel if you were Frazier? You know what you've got to do. But you remember the first fight. Can't forget it. You win it and you end up in the hospital. What? How many days—nine? Listen, a guy can get hit by a ear and be out in three days.
Only thing everybody worries about is Ali playing around. Well, I don't know. But he's a man now, he knows he's the greatest. If he's the greatest, why play around?
On March 8, 1971 Frazier was the champion and undefeated, Ali was the ex-champion and undefeated. It was called The Fight of the Century, and although Ali was decked for a three-count in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden the hyperbole stood up. Attacking unrelentingly, Frazier won on points, but when he faced the press he looked like a very sore loser.
By Jan. 28, 1974 Frazier had been dethroned by Foreman, Ali had lost to Norton. Frazier got in a few licks, but Ali got in more, defused Frazier by holding and took the decision.