- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Durham, with his whiskey voice, measured each word in that line carefully. He is a man under constant pressure, and he seldom says anything that can be used against him later. The pressure, most of it real, some of it imagined, is there because of where he is from and who is behind him. He has brought Frazier along from the beginning with care and craftiness, but the town and the "white power" structure (the Cloverlay syndicate) that has Frazier's contract watch his moves.
Philadelphia has always been suspicious of those who represent it in sports. Its cynicism, for the most part, is justified. It has suffered Joe Kuharich and the Eagles far too long; it has been bored frequently by the Phillies and disappointed by a hundred fighters who came within a punch—and one too many nightcaps—of being champions. "It ain't easy to be out in front with a black Philadelphia fighter," says Sam Solomon, trainer of Ernie Terrell. "Everyone's watchin', waitin' for somethin' bad to happen. The black man always had the fighters here, but he always lost 'em. Durham is the first to go all the way."
Durham and Frazier are just one fight away from the top now. Frazier most likely will be matched with the winner of the Jerry Quarry-Jimmy Ellis fight—the World Boxing Association version of the championship—sometime in late autumn. Frazier is eager to meet Quarry. "I want him," says Frazier. "He's got a big mouth." Quarry may have a big mouth, but he also has the proper equipment to take Frazier. He is the deadliest and most instinctive counter-puncher in boxing today, and you can't knock him down with a baseball bat. He does have a stamina problem, though, and it is quite possible that if he could not bag Frazier inside of six rounds he would be beaten. Ellis, on the other hand, is a brilliant long-range puncher. Unquestionably, he is a threat to Frazier.
No matter who the opponent is, the fight will be tremendously rewarding for the promoter and undoubtedly the Garden will make a serious effort to lay its hands on the bout. It is swaggering now after its showing last week. A crowd of 18,096 paid $658,503 to see the doubleheader, and it was no accident that a man was selling binoculars in the aisle next to the $100 section. Of course, this was typical of the Garden, an organization whose attendants have long been among the rudest ever to block an aisle.
Despite Frazier's performance and the size of the crowd, the program seemed to lack that special electric quality of a fight night, and the 500 pickets, led by the ubiquitous Professor Harry Edwards, matched the mood of the evening. The picketing, without spirit and quite senseless, was being done in protest against New York's lifting of Muhammad Ali's title. "A petition," said Professor Edwards, the man in charge of sporting boycotts, "was submitted to Brother Frazier and Brother Mathis proclaiming Brother Ali to be the true champion. Both accepted the petition amiably and agreed. We are not here to embarrass Brother Frazier or Brother Mathis."
Neither brother seemed excessively embarrassed, but Emile Griffith should have been. If he and Nino Benvenuti ever fight for the middleweight title again, everybody should picket the Garden. The two have now met three times; the last two fights have been more than enough to gag a goat. Griffith, once an exciting fighter, has bored too many crowds for too long now. He is strong, a sharp puncher, but somewhere along the way—perhaps beginning with the night he killed Benny Paret—he lost his skills. His main problem, it seems, is more mental than physical. Often he goes into a trance and then he wanders somnambulantly around the ring. He did scarcely more than that against Benvenuti, who has to be credited with a clever performance.
Benvenuti's talents may be limited, but they were all he needed to regain his title. He broke out quickly in the fight, sticking to one pattern—jab, jab, hook, another jab and then a right hand. Then from the fourth round through the seventh, Benvenuti's legs seemed lifeless; he did not look as though he could last two more rounds. He rallied in the ninth, however, sending Griffith to the floor with a mediocre left hook, and he fought well through the 12th round. Then his legs began to weaken once more, and he was suddenly in trouble. Griffith, frantically charging and butting (he should have had a glove laced around his head), came on to win the final three rounds.
All three officials had the fight close, but there did not seem to be any question that Benvenuti had won. It was, despite his cleverness, a shaky victory. Still, unless he has slipped more than was visible during the fight, Benvenuti should retain his title for a respectable period. As for Griffith, who has been in 19 championship fights and held two division titles, his future is nebulous, and one guesses that his interest in boxing has dimmed; the foppish Virgin Islander never really wanted to be a fighter from the start. A generous, childlike man, Griffith has made close to a million dollars with his fists, but his personal extravagance and generosity to 14 relatives (at last count) has eroded his earnings. Who will pay him the price he commands or even continue to book a man who brings his body into the ring, but leaves his spirit behind in some dark, private world?
Buster Mathis' fate is equally uncertain. The tendency is to dismiss Mathis, who is often rapped for his lack of ring character, but he has ability; how much will be revealed in his next fights. Sympathy for Mathis is difficult (he received $75,000 for a fight he never deserved), but as one watched him lying on the canvas there was an enveloping sadness. "It is too bad," said Cus D'Amato, the manager who once tutored Mathis. D'Amato, boxing's mad scientist who was fired by Mathis' owners, was watching the fight through binoculars, because he was far away and because he enjoys reading lips in the ring, a talent he developed while working with deaf-and-dumb fighters. One wondered if D'Amato's sadness was genuine or whether he was just camouflaging his bitterness.
Like the Boy Scouts who own Mathis, D'Amato did his share in helping to put the huge fighter on the floor. Never having cared much for Mathis as a person, he kept him in leg irons for a long time. Mathis had many problems—fear in the ring, obesity, constant anguish over his appearance—but D'Amato chose to be derisive in his confrontation with them. And although it was obvious that Mathis was not ready for Frazier, Jimmy Iselin and his partners moved him out anyway. Were they desperate to recover the $150,000 invested, or did they just want to prove to D'Amato and boxing their genius as managers? The Frazier fight only corroborated their amateurishness.