R.I.P. Muhammad Ali

“The Greatest” has passed. Muhammad Ali, one of the icons of the 20th century that transcended sports, died at the age of 74.

In his prime, Ali was an incredible fighter. He was also an entertainer with his original rhymes and hysterical antics with Howard Cosell, though there was also a dark side with his “gorilla” taunts of Joe Frazier.

He stood up to the US government at the height of his career when he refused to join the army and go to Vietnam War, sacrificing much of his boxing prime. Still, his most epic fights were still to come with the Thrilla in Manilla and the Rumble in the Jungle.

What a life!

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Howard Cosell: ‘Down goes Frazier!’

A couple of days ago we reached the 40th anniversary of one of the best calls in sports history. Joe Frazier was coming off a win over Muhammad Ali and then he ran into the beast that was George Forman. Howard Cosell had the call, as he repeated three times: “Down goes Frazier!” It’s one of the all-time great calls in sports.

As for Forman, he looked unbeatable after this fight, but then ran into Ali’s rope-a-dope in another stunning fight.

R.I.P. Smokin’ Joe Frazier

One of the true boxing legends passed away yesterday. Joe Frazier was a great fighter and a class act.

– Every boxing fans should watch the documentary Thrilla in Manilla. You’ll see Frazier’s class along with how despicable Ali was in his racist taunts against Frazier. It’s no wonder Frazier hated Ali’s guts until he recently said he forgave him.

– Bill Simmons addresses the Thrilla in Manilla.

– Ray Ratto discusses Ali and Frazier.

– Bullz-Eye.com interviewed Joe Frazier two years ago and he discussed Muhammad Ali, George Forman and Mike Tyson.

– Dan Rafael looks back on Frazier’s career.

– Frazier was a true winner.

Covers.com: 5 Greatest Sports Conspiracies

Scott Cooley of Covers.com put together a top five of greatest sports conspiracies, including Muhammad Ali’s “phantom punch” on Sonny Liston in the boxers’ rematch in 1965.

The rematch of the Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston world heavyweight championship was highly anticipated after the first fight ended abruptly when Liston tapped out because of a shoulder injury.

But the viewing audience barely got a chance to settle into their seats for Ali-Liston II that May evening of 1965. Midway through the first round, Ali threw a jab and Liston dropped to the floor.

That glancing blow has become known as the “phantom punch” because Liston went down nearly unscathed. Conspiracy theorists contend Liston was on the take, like so many boxers have been accused of in the ring.

Some say Liston took a dive because he owed the Mafia money so he bet against himself while others believe he was being threatened by Nation of Islam extremists who had recently converted Cassius Clay.

Even Ali himself was skeptical about the effortless knockdown. While towering over Liston in one of sports’ most recognized moments, The Louisville Lip was apparently screaming at his opponent, “Get up and fight, sucker!” And a more detailed footage of the fight shows Ali asking his corner, “Did I hit him?”.

Liston actually claimed in an interview with Mark Kram for the book Ghosts of Manila that he intentionally lost because of his fear of retaliation from the Black Muslims. Of course, he could have just said that to cover up for taking a dive to erase his Mafia debt.

Be sure to check out the rest of the list, which also includes the 1985 Draft Lottery, “Spygate,” and the 2006 NBA Finals.

HBO presents the Thrilla in Manilla

Tomorrow night (April 11 at 8 pm ET/10pm PT), HBO will premiere the Thrilla in Manilla, a documentary covering the third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The documentary “tells the story of two great fighters forever linked by three epic bouts, and looks at their final fight, considered the most brutal, from Frazier’s perspective for the first time.” Check out the trailer:

Martin Johnson reviews the film.

Thrilla in Manila tells the story with alarming detail and hilarious commentary. The film is much less observational than Leon Gast’s superb When We Were Kings which captured the scene in Kinshasa for the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974. Instead, Dower arrays a cast of talking heads between them so that a dialogue emerges from the commentary. Ali’s cornerman, Ferdie Pacheco, is almost as brash and outspoken as his fighter was. Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, is a charming curiosity. Frazier’s son, Marvis, is calm and insightful. “I like to have a Robert Altmanesque ensemble,” said Dower of his motley crew of commentators.

The film will rub hard-core fans of Ali the wrong way, but Dower says it wasn’t his intent to tear down the great heavyweight. “I came to this with no agenda about Muhammad Ali at all,” he said at a post-screening press conference in New York this week. “It’s just that in telling this story you keep butting into the myth of Ali.”

Ali takes a few on the chin, but he has only himself to blame for some of it. Dower and his crew unearthed footage of Ali boasting about his agreements with the Ku Klux Klan on camera from the early ‘70s. And during his stay in Manila, he is caught womanizing.

However, Thrilla in Manila is far more effective as a portrait than a rebuttal or a diatribe. Frazier is the quiet focus of the film. He is shown in his gym, and he’s coaxed into watching the third fight for the first time. “I lost the fight. What would I have learned from watching it again?” he asked without the slightest hint of wistfulness.

Frazier, both in the movie and in person, seems like a man stuck in the wrong era. His humility and background were easily confused in the ‘70s for subservience, a time when outspokenness was the norm. He wasn’t media savvy in a moment when his opponent was charismatic and savagely sarcastic.

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