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He could always count on the face. It never betrayed him, this big sprawling face that so many had had a good go at over 12 years. Ali had to bury his hands in ice after he was through with it, but still the target was only bruised. Floyd Patterson, with his slashing hand speed, never could open it up, and Floyd's body was drained near the end from punching. The face, with heavy bones, a massive jaw and a nose that tells you what he has been doing for too many years, was all he ever had.
Last week in Madison Square Garden the face came apart on George Chuvalo, splitting like a cantaloupe that has been too long in the sun. Joe Frazier of Philadelphia did the splitting, quickly but untidily. He dug in and took Chuvalo apart piece by piece, and what was left of the Croatian-Canadian was now stretched out on his dressing-room table. His arms hung limply to the sides and his chest heaved as a doctor slowly and gently sponged away the blood below his right eye. The cut was shaped like a scimitar and it went to the bone (later it was discovered that the bone was broken, requiring surgery), and the eye, seemingly ready to burst, was just a slit. There was another cut on the outside of his left eye, and a gash on the top of his scalp. He would not be the last of the great catchers anymore.
"He didn't take all that much punishment," said Irv Ungerman, his manager. "He didn't get hurt that much."
"What the hell ya call this?" mumbled Chuvalo. "This ain't no punishment?"
"Are you going to retire?" Chuvalo was asked.
"No, Georgie's gonna be around a long time," said Ungerman, who did not get hit all night. "Every kid on the way up is gonna want a piece of Georgie boy. He'll be a great opponent for 'em, a great and rich trial horse."
"Don't say that," said Chuvalo. "Please don't say that. I'm no trial horse. I'll never be a trial horse for anyone."
Surely, in his own mind, Chuvalo will never be just an opponent, just an impressive name to add to the record of some crude kid with an empty belly, but he was nothing more than that for Joe Frazier, an uncomplicated fighter with the proper God and proper thoughts, a new black hope of the Establishment that embraced Joe Louis and now vilifies Muhammad Ali. Chuvalo, relatively harmless and immobile, was designed for Frazier.
Still, Frazier and his manager, Yancey Durham, knew that they would have to do much more than club George across the distance. Frazier had to disassemble Chuvalo—who cannot be taken out with a machine gun—as no one had ever come close to doing before in 62 fights. A spectacular victory before New York critics would strengthen his already important position in the heavyweight division. " Frazier is going to step out tonight," said Durham. "He's going to do something for the first time. He's going to stop Chuvalo."
Frazier did step out all right—right into a corner, it appears. When AH was removed from the picture, Frazier smartly refused to participate in any sort of elimination tournament. Frazier, or rather Durham and the syndicate behind Joe, knew that he was the key figure in the division and whoever won the tournament would have to deal with him. It is all working out quite nicely for Frazier, except for one problem. Who is Frazier going to fight in the interim? All of the contenders are in the tournament, and there are only a few names left—like Sonny Liston and Zora Folley. It seems unlikely he would risk his position against this pair, and so he is left with the obscure fighters he fattened up on early in his career. If he does revert to this caliber of opposition, there is the possibility that his development could be arrested and, despite his heavy-handed surgery on Chuvalo and his remarkable improvement, Frazier needs polish and plenty of action.