Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 4, 1968: Frazier Pummels Mathis

     On March 4, 1968, in front of a capacity crowd in Madison Square Garden, Smokin Joe Frazier knocked a Buster Mathis out in the eleventh round of a battle that would decide who would retain Muhammad Ali's vacated Heavyweight Title. The fight came with great controversy as Ali was considered the true champion, but because of his well documented refusal to serve in Vietnam his title was stripped. A new champion would be crowned, and that new champion's name would be Joe Frazier.

     Frazier and Mathis had went toe-to-toe before. Frazier fell to the big man twice, with one of those bouts coming during the 1964 Olympic trials. An injury forced Mathis to miss those games while Frazier went onto win the Gold Medal for the United States. When Mathis beat Frazier he was tipping the scales at 295 pounds, while Frazier was 100 pounds lighter and still a raw young boxer who was refining his craft. Four years after those Olympic trials Mathis would be meeting a different Joe Frazier. 

     Before the fight began there was a war of words as both Frazier and Mathis believed that they would be crowned the Heavyweight Champ. Mathis acknowledged that Frazier had improved, but believed he had as well. He was weighing in at 243 and was considered to be one of the fastest big men around. Mathis questioned who had Frazier beat. He considered the men that came before him as has beens, and that he would be the first real challenge for the Gold medalist. When Frazier spoke he said he learned a lot since those days as an amateur and he was a much improved boxer. He told reporters "I hope Buster has improved as he will need it. I have never been a predicting fellow, but I'm going in there to win and there will be a change when this is over."  With the war of words in the books the real war was on the horizon.

     Outside of the The Garden dozens of picketers held signs proclaiming Ali as the rightful champion; inside two men prepared for battle. By the end of that battle there would be blood and there would be a new champion. Unbeaten as a pro, Frazier held a 20-0 record with 18 of those wins coming via knockout. Mathis had an equally impressive record at 23-0 with 17 knockouts. As mentioned before mathis came into the fight weighing in at 243; Smokin Joe stood at 204. Frazier would use the lighter weight as an advantage as he wore Mathis down as he beat him into submission. 

     For the first six rounds Mathis held his own. Frazier would walk in on him and Mathis would dance away while throwing jabs. When Frazier cornered him he would cover up, go into a crouch, then come out of it swinging. Then he began to wear down. Slowly but surely, he was covering up less, landing fewer punches, while Frazier began an assault that would lead to a title. By the time the eleventh round rolled around Mathis  had blood pouring from his nose, when Frazier ended it with a short left hook that sent him crashing to the ground. With the referee Arthur Mercante counting him out, Mathis got to his feet, and fell against the turnbuckle as Mercante stopped the fight. Frazier was the Champion.

     Some didn't recognize Frazier's title as the "World Champion" because it was simply recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission which covered New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Illinois. He would go onto beat Manuel Ramos, Oscar Bonavena, Dave Zyglewicz, and Jerry Quarry before defeating Jimmy Ellis where he not only retained the NYSAC title he also took home the WBA and WBC titles as well and was now the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. After successfully defending the title against Bob Foster in November of 1970- what was dubbed as the Fight of the Century was set to take place with Frazier taking on Ali. He proved that he was the rightful owner of the title 

     Frazier held that title until George Foreman took it from him in 1973. Along the way he fought Muhammad Ali in a legendary battle that would make history with a 15 round unanimous decision over the former champ. Frazier defended his title two more times before George Foreman took it from him. Frazier fought seven more fights going 3-3-1. Two of those losses came in legendary bouts against Ali and the other loss came with George Foreman as his challenger. In the age of legendary boxers. While every title must eventually be passed on, Frazier proved to be one of the greatest in the age of the legendary boxer. His dominance over Buster Mathis is just one of many tales in a career that boasted a 32-4-1 record. 27 of those 32 wins came by knockout. 

Watch a condensed version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukYPc5sV_Fk

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