A moving tribute at the the Guardian Sports Blog:
“Both [Frazier and Ali] were subsequently reduced to peddling their past, with contrasting success. A preserved cigarette the then Cassius Clay signed for boxing historian Hank Kaplan in the Fifth Street gym in Miami in 1961, went for $1,900 at auction many years later; some of his shorts and robes have brought bids of $40,000. At the International Boxing Hall of Fame convention in upstate New York in 2000, Frazier was charging schoolboys $50 for his autograph on a glove…
“Frazier is leaving us in reduced circumstances, a tale as familiar as it is sad and, surely, avoidable. He is embraced for the heroics that made him Smokin’ Joe, an uncomplicated fighting man, naive perhaps, but dignified and honest.”
The tragic end of ‘Smokin’ Joe’, and so many other pro boxers (including even Ali), reduced to shambling, semi-coherent shells by repeated blows to the head in the name of “sport,” should make professional boxing anathema to the left. Tragically, it doesn’t, as any reader of the Morning Star (which covers boxing in loving detail) will know.
One of the few socialists to roundly denounce this barbaric “sport” and call for its banning, was the American Trotskyist James P. Cannon. Here he is, writing (in ‘A Dead Man’s Decison’ published in the US SWP’s paper The Militant, Sept 24, 1951), in the wake of the death in the ring at Madison Square Garden, of Georgie Flores:
It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from a dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to out-law prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters into a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation -which is on the march, to be sure – has not yet advanced to the point where the law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators… Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life…
…The [safety] precautions, which are supposed to take care of everything, in reality take care of nothing. When you get inside those ropes your head is a target for self-propelled missiles known as fists, and there is no way of making that safe. As the soldier said, when he was asked why he ran away from the front lines: “You can get hurt up there.” Blows to the head never did anybody any good. And if anybody ever got any fun out of it, he hasn’t been heard from yet. The “sport” in prize fighting is strictly for the spectators and the managers and promoters.
The incomparable Joe Louis himself testified to this in a notable statement at a newsreeled press conference, when he renounced his title to turn promoter. A reporter asked:”‘Which do you think you like best, Joe, fighting or promoting?”
Joe, a man of few words, answered: “I like promotin’.”
“Why is that, can you explain it?”
“Sure,” said Joe. “They can’t hit you when you’re promotin’.”
Those words belong in the book of Proverbs.