Monday, February 19, 2007
April 27th of this year will mark the 39th anniversary of one of the World Boxing Association’s crowning achievements. The grand finale of their eight man elimination tournament to find a successor for the deposed Muhammad Ali.
Acting with the swiftness matched only by Mr. Dooley of the New York State Athletic Commission, the W.B.A. immediately stripped Ali of his crown when he refused induction into the Armed Forces. Eight ranking contenders were chosen to box off for the ultimate prize, the heavyweight championship of the world. The fortunate eight were: former champion Floyd Patterson, Ex W.B.A. titleholder Ernie Terrell, the Argentine strongman Oscar Bonevena, the fast rising Californian Thad Spencer, Angelo Dundee’s hopeful Jimmy Ellis, the “White Hope” sensation Jerry Quarry, 1964 Gold Medalist Joe Frazier, and Europe’s entry Karl Mildenberger of Germany. Frazier, the #1 contender by virtue of his fine record since turning pro declined the W.B.A.‘s invitation. The W.B.A. then inserted Leotis Martin to take his place.
The elimination tourney was scoffed at then and even today it is still scrutinized. What if the Vietnam War would not have wanted or needed Ali? What if Ali who had already “cleaned up” the division had remained active? Remember Ali defeated Paterson, Terrell and Mildenberger before he was forced to abdicate. He then won two out of three against Frazier and two over Quarry. He beat Patterson again and also whipped Bonevena and Ellis after a three year hiatus. Let’s say Ali remained active through 1970. He might have met Frazier as early as 1969. Joe would have been facing a lean, active and sharp Ali not the slow and rusty version he met in their 1971 epic. Also remember Joe would have had two years less experience then what he carried in 1971 . In 1969, Frazier was not yet the polished fighting machine he was to become. In my opinion the Frazier of March 8, 1971, would have given any heavyweight in history a life and death struggle including a prime Ali.