The Sunshine Showdown (aka/ “Down Goes Frazier”), Jamaica, 1973
Down goes Frazier!
“The Sunshine Showdown”, 1973, has lost some of its luster due to the “Rumble In The Jungle”, 1974, and “Thrilla In Manila”, 1975. At the time of the bout, it appeared to be a weaker moment amongst world heavyweight title bouts. Only the undefeated champion, Joe Frazier, and tarnished Muhammad Ali held names of high recognition and esteem. Within two years that perception would drastically alter so this period is currently viewed as one of the more beloved and respected eras of the heavyweight division. Don Dunphy proved once again that he is the best boxing announcer in history. But it was an impassioned (and nearly hysterical) Howard Cosell whose imprint permanently marked this sporting event. American Broadcasting Company, via “Wide World Of Sports”, replayed the television-friendly bout in its entirety several times. If the fight retains any permanent personality or identity, it is with the unofficial renaming of The Sunshine Showdown into the Down Goes Frazier bout.
George Foreman, aged twelve, was destined to be a ‘bum’. It was how he viewed himself when not consumed by grandiose dreams of greatness. Foreman was doing what he enjoyed best, skipping school, sneaking back into the family home, before flopping his oversized body onto the bed for more sleep. A female family member caught him ‘playing hooky’, but instead of the expected scolding, told him as she prepared for work: “Go back to sleep. You ain’t ever gonna be nothing. Nobody from here ever became anything but dead or drunk.” In the midst of an America and world in turmoil, along with social revolution, the moody teenaged Foreman received a miracle. The Great Society of President Lyndon Johnson, for the first time, provided Job Corps, which assisted dropout kids to learn skills for the workplace. Something in Foreman’s psyche, that anyone cared about him, not just individuals but a nation, altered his feel-sorry-for-himself attitude into someone more disciplined. Foreman learned carpentry, bricklaying, and electronics. After failing to land a job in his native, Houston, Texas, an embittered Foreman was hired at California Job Corps as a physical education instructor. He was encouraged to join the Job Corps boxing team where he compiled a 16-4 amateur record. Foreman, as his self-esteem improved, imagined preaching to others that if they prayed to God, stayed off drugs and hustling streets while retaining a work ethic that anyone can accomplish goals. Foreman also fantasized about being a millionaire and this made him love America even more.
Foreman’s greatest amateur boxing achievement, heavyweight gold champion of the Mexico City, 1968, Olympics, made him, even more, a ‘bum’. Foreman incensed sections of America by waving an American flag after his finals victory. It was mockingly compared to the ‘black power’ fist salute by two American track and field athletes from the medal podium. Only days before those Olympics occurred the Tlatelolco massacre, with thousands of students arrested and scores killed by Mexican military troops. If Foreman’s flag-waving had been contrasted with Mexico’s violence it might have been viewed as more heroic. Foreman refused to apologize to the Black-American community while expressing appreciation for LBJ and Job Corps. Lyndon Baines Johnson died the same day as The Sunshine Showdown.
One person that had no regrets waving an American flag, or speaking openly of his love for America, White or Black, as long as their check cleared was African-American Don King. He loved the color Black but loved the color Green (money) more and never pretended something elseThe wishful promoter was a former Cleveland numbers banker who had killed two people. The manslaughter convicted felon latched onto former heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, by appealing about the lack of Black boxing promoters. King had placed himself in position for one of the richest promotions in boxing history: Ali versus Frazier II for HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP, with $1.5-million guaranteed for both fighters. Undefeated Champion Joe Frazier did not like King and liked Ali even less, so he ignored a lawsuit forcing the title showdown and instead chose to face the undefeated spiritual, Goliath challenger. Ali was openly perturbed: what if Frazier loses? Don King likely held similar thoughts but refused to display the world anything other than a dazzling smile with impassioned “America is #1,” zealousness.
Don King learned from The Sunshine Showdown. Madison Square Garden, which had hosted the lucrative Frazier/Ali “Fight of the Century” bout, lost its bid to the Government of Jamaica. Alex Valdez had promoted Frazier’s European singing tour: “Joe Frazier And The Knockouts,” and Frazier liked him enough to allow his negotiation for the upcoming title bout. Valdez teamed with a Chinese-descent Jamaican named Lucien Chen. Chen had worked illegally inside America as a waiter for a Chinese restaurant. Chen saved enough money for a return to Jamaica as a bookmaker and boxing promoter. Valdez and Chen convinced the Government of Jamaica, through local lawyer, Paul FitzRitzson, to bid against Madison Square Garden through the name, National Sports Limited. Madison Square Garden guaranteed Frazier $800,000, Foreman $250,000, with the State of New York lowering their taxes to 10%. National Sports Limited, with a Jamaica bank offering collateral, guaranteed Frazier $850,000, Foreman $375,000, with 0% taxes. When Foreman was threatened with a lawsuit from a theatrical agent with whom he had signed a long-term contract, any injunction not enforceable outside America, National Sports Limited won the bid and the Government of Jamaica had its heavyweight championship bout. Jamaica would attempt to recoup its investment through closed-circuit television and the box office from its National stadium. (36,000 would be the paid attendance for the 42,000 capacity Kingston venue). Only Playboy publisher, Hugh Hefner, could enjoy the fight from the comfort of his home. Paul FitzRitzson: “Mister Hefner is paying us in money and bunnies.” Don King was a numbers man, and the idea of a poorer nation sponsoring a heavyweight championship bout would eventually lead to “The Rumble In The Jungle” (Zaire) and the “Thrilla In Manila” (Philippines).
Most people viewed Muhammad Ali as the #2 heavyweight in the world. Joe Frazier openly courted the undefeated Olympic champion, Foreman, as the legitimate #1 contender. Frazier was perturbed that Ali gave him no credit for his unanimous decision victory in 1971. Ali continued to insist that he had won their fight (despite being knocked down) and that the judges cheated because he was Muslim and did not agree with his views on Vietnam. Muhammad Ali’s ego and pocketbook were galled at the idea of Frazier earning less money by fighting Foreman. Frazier had gained ten pounds since their bout and did not appear to care. Millions of dollars were riding on the line for Muhammad Ali, but only with a Frazier victory. Most newspapers viewed Frazier as likely winner over Foreman, by knockout, while gamblers made him a 3 ½-1 favorite. Former heavyweight champion legend, Joe Louis, not an Ali fan, probably made Ali more concerned by predicting the underdog as the victor. Joe Louis: “You don’t have to have the experience to beat Frazier. You don’t have to outthink him the way you do Cassius Clay…. (Frazier) is always in front of you and easy to hit…. I’ll tell you about that fight (Frazier/Ali I). Clay’s taken something out of Frazier. There’s no doubt about it.”
Joe Frazier had become a blue-collar hero and icon for America. The teenaged Frazier had built his own punching bags in South Carolina out of corn cobs, pine tree sap, and cotton. It was Frazier, not the fictional Rocky Balboa, whose training included jogging those 72-steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was Frazier, not Rocky Balboa, who pounded raw meat at the Philadelphia slaughterhouse before an eight-hour shift of mopping blood. Frazier had won the heavyweight gold medal for the 1964 Olympics and then parlayed that into an undefeated professional career with high-profile victories versus Oscar Bonovena, Jerry Quarry, and Champion Jimmy Ellis. Frazier went to ‘work’ inside the ring, always stepping forward while throwing punches, with gritty determination. Frazier’s defeat over the previously unbeaten Muhammad Ali had elevated his status as possibly one of the greatest heavyweight champions. One thing was definite, and both Frazier/Foreman knew the truth, that when they stepped into the Jamaica ring, January 22nd, 1973, only one of the boxers would be afraid, and it would not be Joe Frazier.
Joe Frazier is the psycho robot-cowboy killer from the movie Westworld, played by Yul Brynner, that even after you dismember him and throw acid in his face, revives alive again while stepping forward without emotion. Joe Frazier is Michael Myers from Halloween, Jason from Friday the 13th, Freddy Krueger or Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Frazier is the crazy man with the hockey mask in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Frazier’s energy, lack of fear, and tenaciousness were impossibly intimidating. Oscar Bonovena knocked Frazier down twice in the 2nd round of their encounter. Frazier smiled and appeared to enjoy the pain. Frazier tenaciously arose from knockdowns with non-stop punches. The worst strategy against Muhammad Ali is to step forward continuously, but Ali underestimated the conditioning and drive of the ‘non-human’ Champion. George Foreman wanted the heavyweight championship more than anything in the world. But the challenger also knew that he would have to kill Joe Frazier first to achieve that dream. It was both awesome and frightening.
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Don Dunphy (1/22/1973): “Here’s the challenger for the heavyweight title, Big George Foreman. The undefeated heavyweight was born in Marshall, Texas, on January 10th, 1949, which makes him twenty-four. He now lives in Heywood, California. Foreman won the Olympic crown in 1968, turned pro, and guided by the canny Dick Sadler; he has won all his 37 fights, scoring 34 knockouts. He’s six-feet-four, and he has a reach of seventy-eight-and-a-half inches. George Foreman, the challenger! His biggest achievement is the knockout of George Chuvalo…. Here comes the undefeated Champion, Joe Frazier. Joe was born in Buford, South Carolina, on January 12th, 1944, and now lives in Philadelphia. Frazier won the Olympic crown in ’64, and guided by Yancey Durham, has won all his professional fights, getting him 29 straight victories, with 25 knockouts. Frazier won recognition as heavyweight Champion by defeating Jimmy Ellis by a knockout. He cemented his position with a unanimous decision over the undefeated Muhammad Ali, in 1971. Joe is five-feet-eleven, with a reach of seventy-three-and-a-half inches…. The heavyweight championship of the world! The biggest event in all sports…. And I hope you’re as excited as I am because one never knows what might happen at a heavyweight championship fight or any fight for that matter.”
ROUND 1: Both are aggressive. Foreman misses with left jabs but lands rights to the body. Frazier’s head bobs while bouncing on feet. Dunphy: “Frazier in the white trunks. Foreman in the red trunks.” Frazier steps forward, but not throwing punches.Foreman slightly backs, but still lands to the body with long arms and raw physical power. Foreman lands two left jabs to face that slightly back up Frazier. Dunphy: “Foreman a little tense looking.” Foreman lands left jab and push Frazier backward. Frazier does not throw punches though he is the aggressor. Dunphy: “Frazier rarely wins the first round. I’d be surprised if he won one now.” They exchange jabs. Frazier lands another left jab to the body.Foreman lands left jab to head, misses with his right, and then shoves Frazier backward. Frazier bounces forward again.Foreman lands left jab to head and then misses with his right. Frazier lands a hard left uppercut hook to the jaw. Dunphy: “Foreman has been nailed, and nailed good. Joe Frazier’s best punch is his left hook.” They move in close with Frazier determinedly stepping forward. Dunphy: “Foreman apparently not trying to back Frazier off with his left jab.” Foreman lands left jab to face and follow with a hard right uppercut which lands to the chin. Foreman pushes Frazier backward. Dunphy: “Now Foreman looks a little looser.” Frazier seems confused but tenaciously steps forward. Foreman’s powerful long arms push Frazier backward. Frazier continues forward with an attempt to land a left hook to the chin, but it falls short. Frazier’s momentum takes him forward until Foreman pushes him backward. Foreman steps forward and misses wildly with two punches, as Frazier’s head ducks, but continues with a hard left jab that lands on the chin. Howard Cosell: “There’s another left by George. He’s getting into Frazier’s head. We’ll find out tonight how much the Ali fight took out of Frazier. If anything. And we’ll find out tonight just how good George Foreman is at giving and taking a punch.” Foreman wildly throws punches while missing half of them. Foreman lands left jab to face and follow with a right that misses. Dunphy: “Foreman with a good, smart, snappy jab.” Foreman lands hard left punch to head and follows with a right to head which misses. Cosell: “I THINK HE HURT JOE FRAZIER! I THINK JOE IS HURT!” Dunphy: “Foreman is having a very good round.” Foreman lands left to head follows with a right that lands to head and then follows with a left which grazes the side of the head. Cosell: “DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!” Dunphy: “Joe is down.”
Frazier bounces to his feet and walks a bit in circles while Foreman relaxes his long arms on the neutral corner ropes. Cosell: “THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION IS TAKING THE MANDATORY EIGHT-COUNT AND FOREMAN IS AS POISED AS CAN BE!” Both men step forward. Foreman lands hard left punch to the body and then follows with a right which lands on top of the head.Frazier lands left hook to the chin. Foreman pushes Frazier backward. Dunphy: “A minute to go in the round.” Cosell: “WE HAVE A MINUTE LEFT IN THIS ROUND AND ALREADY THE BOUT HAS TURNED OUT AS SOME HAVE EXPECTED!” Foreman steps forward while Frazier determinedly holds his ground. They exchange punches. Foreman throws wild lefts, rights to head which graze instead of landing clean but are still punishing. Dunphy: “Frazier’s in real trouble here.” Frazier backs into ropes. Foreman steps forward while landing left jab to face. Foreman slows his pace with momentary patience as he searches for an opening. Frazier’s head bobs with his back against ropes. Foreman lands and misses with powerful lefts and rights. Cosell: “OHHH, THAT LEFT IS GETTING IN THERE!” Dunphy: “Frazier seems to be hurt. He’s being rocked.” Foreman utilizes his left arm reach advantage. Frazier surges forward with a wild left hook to the chin that misses short. Foreman pushes Frazer backward into the corner ropes. Foreman misses and lands with wild lefts, rights to head while leaning and pushing a trapped Frazier backward onto corner ropes. Cosell: “FRAZIER IS DAZED! HE IS GETTING HIT OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN! THE SAME HEAD THAT WAS HIT SO OFTEN BY MUHAMMAD ALI! FRAZIER IS DAZED!” Dunphy: “Foreman in complete control of the fight.” Foreman pins Frazier with his long, outstretched left while landing powerful rights to head. Cosell: “FOREMAN HAS NOT PANICKED! FOREMAN IS GOING ABOUT HIS JOB!” Frazier is trapped and confused with his bobbing head determined to step forward. Dunphy: “Frazier is fighting back gamely, but he’s having trouble.” Cosell: “FOREMAN IS ALL OVER JOE FRAZIER!” Dunphy: “Twenty seconds to go.” Foreman lands a powerful right punch clean to the jaw. Dunphy: “Frazier is down again.” Cosell: “FRAZIER IS DOWN AGAIN, AND HE MAYBE, NO, HE IS RISING! HE IS GAME!”
Frazier quickly rises glassy-eyed following 2nd knockdown, wobbles a bit, and pounds his gloves. Cosell: “HE IS DAZED! HE DOESN’T KNOWS WHERE HE IS!” Dunphy: “Frazier is wobbling around. He’s taking a mandatory eight-count.” Cosell: “HE IS TAKING A MANDATORY EIGHT-COUNT! HE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE HE IS!” Frazier steps forward with guarded gloves to protect his face. Cosell: “HE IS – NOW THE ROUND IS ABOUT TO END! TWO KNOCKDOWNS IN THE ROUND OF JOE FRAZIER!” Dunphy: “Frazier has never taken this kind of punishment.” Foreman aggressively steps forward with a wild right to head that grazes, follows with a wild left to the head that grazes, and then lands a powerful right to the chin.
Howard Cosell: “DOWN AGAIN! NO SAVING BY THE BELL!” Don Dunphy: “Frazier goes down at the bell.” Cosell: “HE’S UP AND SO THE BOUT CONTINUES!”Bell has rung which concludes round once Frazier beats the count.
Former Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali (reviews round one): “Foreman is like an amateur with his punches. His left jab is good, but he doesn’t know how to follow it up. If Frazier could have kept his distance, he would have done better. He’s making a mistake by standing up to Foreman and fighting him after the knockdown. He’s a little too proud. He thinks he’s the heavyweight Champion, so he thinks he’s gotta go get his man. He needs to retreat and cool off rather than going right back there to fight again. He’s running right into wild punches. George, you see, is not aiming his punches, he is just throwing them. He’s just throwing hard, wild punches and Frazier stands right there and allows himself to be hit by them. If he could get off the ropes and stop trying to slug it out, he could win this fight, because right now George is very, very tired. George is aiming. He’s just throwing wild, amateur punches.”
ROUND 2: Both are offensively aggressive while simultaneously stepping forward with wild punches. Foreman expends tremendous energy. Foreman attempts to hold Frazier with a long left on top of his head while punching to the face with his right. Referee, Arthur Mercante, steps between the boxers, taps Foreman and then orders him to back away. Dunphy: “Foreman is being warned.” Frazier steps backward and traps himself into corner ropes. Foreman steps forward and pounds away with powerful lefts and rights. Dunphy: “Frazier is being battered in Foreman’s corner.” Foreman pounds at the head of a trapped Frazier. Cosell: “OHHH, HE IS ALL OVER FRAZIER AGAIN!” Frazier attempts sideways escape, trips over Foreman’s foot, and then trips over his own feet as he stumbles in retreat. Cosell: “FRAZIER’S KNEES BUCKLED!” Foreman steps forward with a hard swatting right which lands to the back of the head. Dunphy: “Joe goes down again. He goes down again.” Cosell: “HE IS DOWN FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN THE FIGHT! GEORGE FOREMAN IS DOING TO JOE FRAZIER WHAT A NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD DID TO A VETERAN RUSSIAN, A FELLOW NAMED IONAS CHEPULIS, IN OCTOBER, 1968, IN THE MEXICO CITY ARENA!.”
A stunned Frazier rises, wobbles a bit, and then steps forward towards Foreman. Dunphy: “Forty-five seconds into the round. Joe has been down four times.” Foreman easily lands left to the chin. Foreman aggressively continues with wild lefts, rights that equally miss and land. Cosell: “A QUICK LEFT! ANOTHER!” Foreman lands short, compact left to chin. Dunphy: “There goes Joe down again.” Cosell: “FRAZIER IS DOWN FOR THE 5th TIME IN THIS FIGHT! THREE TIMES IN THE FIRST ROUND! TWICE IN THE SECOND!”
Frazier instantly rises and is ready to fight again. Foreman throws wild, loopy lefts and rights to head which miss and land while pushing Frazier backward onto ropes. Dunphy: “Five times he’s been down. Foreman is at him again.” Foreman tees off with lefts, rights which land to head. Dunphy: “It’s hard to see how Frazier can last.” Frazier is confused as he allows himself to be repeatedly hit. Cosell: “IT’S TARGET PRACTICE FOR GEORGE FOREMAN! IT IS TARGET PRACTICE! FRAZIER IS READY TO GO AGAIN!” Foreman lands right to the chin and then follows with the short left which lands clean to the jaw. Cosell: “THERE HE GOES!” Dunphy: “Joe is down for the 6th time. Let’s see if the referee stops it.”
Frazier rises and begins wobbling forward in the wrong direction. Cosell: “THEY ARE GOING TO, NO; THEY ARE NOT GOING TO STOP IT!” Referee Mercante has hold of Foreman as he attempts to pull him away. Dunphy: “He’s trying to get his man to a neutral corner. Frazier doesn’t know where he is!” Cosell: “ANGIE DUNDEE IS SCREAMING, ‘STOP IT’!” Referee Mercante rushes over to undefeated Champion with waving arms. Dunphy: “The fight is over! The fight is over! The winner is George Foreman!” Cosell: “IT IS OVER IN THE SECOND ROUND! GEORGE FOREMAN IS THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!”
The ring is dangerously inundated by a swarm of men. Two fist-fights erupt simultaneously. The most determined person in the building is promoter, Don King, who had arrived at the arena in a limousine with Champion Joe Frazier and would exit the arena, in that same limousine, with Champion George Foreman. Another determined man is Don Dunphy, with the assistance of Dick Sadler, as he attempts to land the first interview with the new heavyweight Champion. Dunphy: “It’s a madhouse here in the ring. We have a new Heavyweight Champion of the world…. I can’t get near the new heavyweight Champion. I just hope I don’t lose my microphone…. The ring is a madhouse. A stunning upset…. I’m trying to get to George Foreman. Out of the way, fellows, please.”Both King and Dunphy push forward through the aggressive crowd until King has secured Foreman’s shoulder, while Dunphy has hold of his arm.
George Foreman (exhausted and bleary-eyed): “Joe Louis, I have more respect for him than any man in the world. Next to Joe Louis, Mister Archie Moore.” An ecstatic (or so he appears), Don King, slaps an oblivious Foreman hard to back of shoulder: “My man. I got it. My man!” Foreman: “What round is it?” Dunphy: “You forgot what round you won in?” Foreman: “I thought it was the 4th (round).” Dunphy: “Do you know how many times you knocked Joe down?” Foreman: “I can’t remember.” Dunphy: “George, I got to know about your plans for the future. Will you fight Joe Frazier again or Muhammad Ali?” A beaming Don King continues to rub and hold onto the shoulder of boxing’s new money machine. Foreman: “Right now, my plans were to win the heavyweight championship. I’d like to tell all the kids, to preach, that if you work really hard, and pray, that you can do anything. I’d like to spend my whole life preaching. Even more than fighting. My next fight will be to work with all the juveniles. That’s the ring. The world is my ring.”
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