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Be that as it may, the rumors of All's comeback are growing fainter and are being drowned by the noisy preparations for battle. Last week Angelo Dundee called Ellis and told him of an offer of a $125,000 guarantee against 40% of the gate to fight Floyd Patterson on August 10 in Stockholm, which Ellis somewhat reluctantly accepted. "I had hoped to stay home and catch up with my family," he said. "But Angelo says when we go. I was lying in the weeds when he took me and managed me to the title, so he knows his job."
The Patterson fight would be the start of something big—the inevitable confrontation with Frazier. "That will be a big one," says Dundee, "but first we have to steam it up. We have to stir up controversy, make the fans choose sides. It has to be boiling before we jump in."
What Dundee is really saving is that Ellis has to come to a boil before the public will jump in. "I won the title, but I didn't excite the fans," Ellis says bitterly. "That's what some writers say. They rap me for not being exciting. People say. 'James, why didn't you go get Quarry when he was on the ropes?" Well, maybe I should have and maybe I could have, but maybe if I had I wouldn't have come home with the title."
Cus D'Amato has said, "A fighter's image is often an illusion. It's not dishonest; that's the business. It's the color, the glamour of the guy that brings in the customers. Ellis needs two fights in which he can appear dynamic."
Says Ellis, "I won my title by beating everyone in front of me, all top-rated fighters—Oscar Bonavena, who knocked Frazier down twice, Leotis Martin, who Frazier ran from, and Jerry Quarry, a guy Joe Frazier is still not anxious to meet. How did Frazier get his championship? By reaching down and picking out fighters ranked 43 and 45 [Chuvalo and Mathis], fighters so far down he had to find them with a microscope."
But more makes up the illusion of a fighter than whom he fought. Beginnings, style and record contribute, too. Frazier became a star in 1964 when he won the Olympic title, and this image was nurtured by the careful handling of Cloverlay, the corporation of 581 shareholders that manages him. He is undefeated as a professional and fights with an indomitable, straight-ahead, relentless style which, in its own way, is reminiscent of vintage Liston. Sonny, incidentally, will fight Henry Clark at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on July 6 and a convincing victory would put him back in contention.
Ellis, as he says, came out of the weeds. Four years ago he was a broke middleweight with five losses; next he became Ali's sparring partner. Although he is undefeated as a heavyweight and is an exceptionally able fighter, he hasn't thrown off his lackluster antecedents and he realizes that he must lick Frazier to gain the public's adoration.
First, he would have to prove himself against a desperate Patterson getting another of his last chances at the title. Floyd would also be fighting in what he calls "my place"; he has had three bouts in Sweden without a loss and is regarded as something of a national hero. Ellis, with his sneak right hands, would have a good foil in Patterson, who can be knocked down in the early rounds. Ellis also prefers an opponent such as Patterson, who would carry the fight to him and provide him with an opportunity to counter, which he does so well. However, Patterson still has a good left hook, and if the fight went the distance, his pressing tactics would test Ellis' stamina.
It is likely that the Frazier-Ellis fight will occur early next year and will be promoted either by the Garden or by Sports Action, Inc. or even by both. Sports Action, which put together the WBA's tournament, is the successor to the moribund Main Bout, Inc., which promoted several of Ali's last bouts. The outfits are similar except, as Bob Arum, secretary of both, explains, "Sports Action's lighter." By that he means it has only one Negro officer, Jimmy Brown (arrested on an assault charge early this week), while Main Bout had three—Brown, Herbert Muhammad and John Ali, the Black Muslims' national secretary.
Sports Action feels confident it will land the fight, and it already has a date and site, namely, January 13, 1969 (about the same date the Garden has in mind) and the Astrodome—Judge Roy Hofheinz's son is Sports Action's executive vice-president. The reason January 13 was selected is that the National Home Builders' convention is in Houston at that time, and Mike Malitz, Sports Action's president, claims there is a guarantee of sorts from the Home Builders to purchase 10,000 seats for $350,000. Malitz further asserts that Sports Action has two advantages over the Garden in obtaining the match: it has a contract with Ellis, which enables it to designate the local promoter and site for his first title fight, with the right to waive this privilege for such lesser defenses as Ellis-Patterson, and it has an exclusive on the ancillary rights to all Ellis fights through 1969. Secondly, Malitz contends that if Sports Action has to bid with the Garden for the match, it will be no contest. "On the right date, the Dome in any kind of bidding war will beat anyone," he says.