This is an excerpt from “Stan Hochman Unfiltered: 50 Years of Wit and Wisdom from the Groundbreaking Sportswriter” published by Temple University Press.
Hochman wrote about sports in his singular fashion for the Philadelphia Daily News for 55 years until his death in April 2015. The book was edited by Gloria Hochman, his wife of 55 years and also an accomplished author. This excerpt was first published in the Daily News on March 9, 1971.
A fight to cherish
“LET ME GO get my face straightened out . . . I’m not this ugly,” Joe Frazier said. The words came slushing through a chunk of ice he was grinding between his aching teeth, trying to chill the pain in his jaw into submission. There was a lump under his right eye and a lump under his left eye and a lump on his forehead and a crackle of dried blood alongside his left nostril.
Handsome, he wasn’t.
“All those things you guys been writing about me,” he said, working hard to arrange those lumpy features in a smile, “what you got to say now?”
All those things people had been writing had been the taunting words of Muhammad Ali, that Frazier was too slow, too dull, too heavy-legged, and too homely to be a champion.
And while Frazier was clutching ice to his lumpy face, Ali was hunched in a police car, its siren screaming as it screeched through New York’s clogged traffic to a hospital to assay the damage to a jaw that was swollen like a soggy jack-o-lantern.
Had Ali been able to talk, he might have echoed Frazier’s words. All those things those guys had been writing about him had been churned into so much confetti in a terrifying-wonderful savage-skillful bitter-sweet kind of fist-fight.
Both targets of skeptics
For all the people who had demeaned Frazier as too slow and too mechanical, there were as many who scorned Ali as some kind of faint-hearted narcissist who would curl up and wither if somebody fetched him a clout to his handsome head. They decided he had lost enough of his speed and a fraction of those incredible reflexes and that would make him easy prey for those kidney-rattling hooks that Frazier throws.
Well, Ali spent a lot of time with his feet planted firmly, banging away at Frazier with both hands. And there was that one round they could have fought in a telephone booth, imprisoned in one corner of the ring.
The legend of Muhammad Ali came tumbling down last night in Madison Square Garden with 20,455 witnesses and a fair portion of the theater-going world looking on. Joe Frazier, who learned his trade in the grimy, head-knocking atmosphere of Philly’s gyms, provided the push. Not spectacularly, but—rather—in Frazier fashion. Grim, relentless and no quarter given.
Ali, whose handsome face had smiled and taunted its way through the decade, now knows what the other side of the business is all about. Would you believe that after it was all over he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk? Couldn’t is the more probable explanation.
What happened is that Joe Frazier whipped Muhammad Ali in the one way that most people agreed he couldn’t, over 15 rounds of magnificent prize fight. Joe did it like a man climbing the mountain, grunting and puffing and struggling but never taking his eyes off the peak. He couldn’t put his man away like he said he would, so he methodically took him apart. And in one breathless instant, during the 15th and final round, he sent the left hook soaring home like a demolition ball.
Ali went down thunderstruck. That he got up at all wipes away any doubt what the man has inside him. That he finished the round and the fight is a credit to him, boxing, and Joe’s knowledge that he had it won anyway.
Ali wobbled through the final two minutes with the right side of his face beginning to resemble one of those Florida grapefruits. A half hour later he was whisked away to a mid-Manhattan hospital where they were to determine if anything had to be wired back together. Souvenir of that Philadelphia hook again.
Among the things that Ali missed after the fight was the press conference and he skips those as about as often as he loses. So you know the guy was hurting.
Frazier earned his victory every inch of the way and the guys and dolls in the $150 seats got their money’s worth.
The scoring was peculiar but unanimous. Referee Arthur Mercante had it 8–6–1, giving Joe four of the five final rounds and calling the other even. Judge Artie Aidala had it 9–6, giving Frazier six straight runs from the third through the eighth and Ali two of the final five. Judge Bill Recht saw it 11–4, giving Ali little more than a pat on the head.
The two Daily News writers at ringside both scored it 8–6–1.
Throw out the psychological warfare and the rest was all heavy artillery. Ali came out fast as had been anticipated and the stuff he was triggering in the first round had KO written on it. He was backing up only occasionally. He was not on his toes and the idea was to end it right there.
Frazier, as he always seems to do, waded through the downpour of jabs and hooks and right hands and began mounting his own toll of damage. There was a big left hook near the end of the third that shook Ali. And Joe hurt him with the first of two solid hooks in the fourth.
At that point the fight seemed to be turning toward Frazier. But it wasn’t to be as clear a victory as it appeared.
Then 25 seconds into the 15th, he double hooked for one of the few times during the evening. The first struck Ali on the elbow, the second nearly put his head in the mezzanine. Ali went down as if somebody had jerked the ring out from under him. He was up at two however, waited out the eight count, and finished the round—mostly courtesy of Frazier, who was already celebrating. He had to know the knockdown was only a punctuation mark.
“I feel stronger than I did when I went in,” Joe told the assembly of writers some 10 minutes later, peering from beneath swollen eyes. He didn’t, but he had earned the right to say it anyhow.
“I want him to come to me and apologize for all the things he called me,” Frazier added. “He mumbled something after they announced the decision, but I couldn’t understand. I didn’t make him crawl across the ring like he said he would.”
Then Frazier told it like everybody had seen it. “I got to give him credit,” Joe said. “He takes some punch. That last shot I hit him with, I reached all the way back home for.”
Rematch? “I don’t think he’ll want one,” Frazier said. “And me and Yank (Durham), we got to go home and take it easy for a while. I’ve been working 10 years for this night.”
So had the other guy and what it fetched him was an ugly jaw and a loss a lot of people thought never would come. “God knows I whipped him,” Joe said.
God knows he surely did.