The word we use in our business is resurgence," says Harry Markson, who is managing director of boxing for Madison Square Garden. "It's a nice-sounding word." Mrs. Aileen Eaton, the promoter for the Olympic in Los Angeles, prefers "renaissance," which, admittedly, has a nice sound, too. In short, there's a boxing boom. For example, last October in Mexico City 90,000 watched the bill on which Manuel Ramos beat Ernie Terrell. "Which is a lot of people even if you close your eyes," says Angelo Dundee. In March the Garden set an indoor-record gate of $685,503 for the doubleheader in which Buster Mathis was knocked out by Joe Frazier, who as a result was somewhat capriciously recognized by New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maine as the world heavyweight champion. And in April the largest "live" audience in the history of boxing—more than 120 million—saw Jimmy Ellis outpoint Jerry Quarry to become the heavyweight champion of the world in the nations, states and cities that belong to the World Boxing Association. This, by the way, was the final bout of an elimination tournament that Teddy Brenner, the Garden matchmaker, has characterized as "a complete success in that it successfully eliminated all the fighters."
Then the boom, which to a great measure was stimulated by efforts to find a successor to Muhammad Ali, nearly became a bust. Although everyone assumed that the two pretenders, Frazier and Ellis, would meet to determine who was really the champ, nothing of the sort took place. Ellis went back to his old Kentucky home, and Manager Angelo Dundee said that Ellis might just shoot a little pool, bowl, fish for cat and perch and lend his tenor to The Riverview Spiritual Singers of Louisville until some new contenders were developed.
Meanwhile, Frazier agreed to fight Ramos in the Garden on June 24. Ramos, who is 6'3", is the Mexican heavyweight champion; more to the point, he is really the only Mexican heavyweight. He is reputedly fast, well schooled and has a good punch, and he has beaten Eddie Machen as well as Terrell; he also once went eight straight fights without a win. Against Frazier, however, Ramos is deservedly a 4-to-1 underdog, and as Markson ruefully observed last week, "I wish he was Mexican-Jewish."
More confounding were the rumors about Ali. "All over L.A. people are talking about Ali fighting again," says Heavyweight Charley Powell. "In the gyms guys are whispering, Ali's coming back, Ali's coming back.' I asked one guy what the hell was he whispering about, and he didn't know. That cat Ali drives everybody crazy."
One rumor has it that Ali will fight Bob Foster, the new light heavyweight champion, in Salt Lake City. Another had Ali going 10 rounds apiece with Mathis and Quarry on the same night, also in Salt Lake. This extravaganza presumably fell through when Quarry 1) went hunting, a) was gashed in the forehead by the recoil of his rifle and b) got a poison-oak rash, and 2) went swimming off Newport Beach, Calif., where a) he got caught in a riptide and was swept 300 yards to sea, and b) went under twice before being rescued by a surfer. However, according to one Aliologist, the proposed bouts were merely another Ali put-on. " Ali's just promoting himself," he said. Indeed, last month Ali had his best take on the lecture circuit—an estimated $30,000.
But there have been attempts to make an Ali fight. Henry Winston, an Oakland soul brother who owns an ambulance service, has been trying for the past eight months. "Winston got close to the mountaintop," is the way Chauncey Eskridge, Ali's attorney, admiringly puts it. " Ali doesn't sit around and think about fighting," he says, "but if there was some economic advantage he'd like to fight again. There are a bunch of ordinary fight states where he could be licensed, but the promoters feel they'd be doing him a favor. They insist he take a straight percentage."
The reason Salt Lake keeps getting a call in these rumors is that the Utah commission acquiesced to the Ali-Floyd Patterson rematch, which was switched to three other states before it never came off. But, as Eskridge implied, there's no way Ali is going to fight in Utah: 40% of a live gate in Salt Lake wouldn't pay the bills at Ali's kosher butcher.
As a matter of fact, a promoter had Ali-Eduardo Corletti made, but the fight fell through when Herbert Muhammad, Ali's manager, balked at 40% and a two-fight contract. Corletti, who is rated second by the WBA and seventh by The Ring, is an Argentine who resides in Rome and frequently fights in London. His high ranking is rather mystifying, as his most notable win was over George Chuvalo, who has had many notable losses, and Corletti was once knocked out in five by Raymond Patterson, Floyd's kid brother, who now works in a filling station in Savedalen (pop. 5,075), Sweden. Says London Promoter Jack Solomons: "Corletti's a powderpuff puncher who has to struggle to beat fighters who are not even ranked. With Corletti in the ring you can go to the toilet and when you come back everything will be just as it was when you left."
Says yet another promoter, "The truth is if Ali wanted to fight, he'd take low-ball to do so." But often of late Ali has said he was too involved with the bigger fight—freeing 22� million blacks—and the likelihood is he is done with boxing. Shortly after his title was taken from him, Ali said he'd come back to bug the game, and so he has. "There I'll be, wearing a sheet," he said, "and whispering, "Ali-e-e-e-e-e, Ali-e-e-e-e-e.' I'll be the ghost that haunts boxing, and people will say Ali is the real champ and anyone else is a fake."
And, in the best of all possible worlds, he would be champ. The heavyweight championship is, in a sense, an apostolic succession, what the late Joe Liebling termed a laying on of hands, in that in most instances the current champion defeated his predecessor, who in turn defeated his. and so forth—or so back. When a champion voluntarily retired, as in the cases of Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, he sanctioned the tournament to discover his successor, so that the descent remained unbroken. However, Ali hasn't blessed either Frazier or Ellis—or Waban (Tugboat) Thomas, for that matter—as his legitimate heir.