Daughters degrade the Ali-Frazier legend hits the floor

A quarter of a century after boxing's greatest opponents slugged it out, their offspring cash in with a 'fight' of their own, reports David Usborne
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Just in case anyone venturing into the rigid tent erected in a car park at the Turning Stone casino in upstate New York hadn't got the message, the organisers of Friday night's big fight had written it on huge banners from the ceiling: "Ali-Frazier IV".

It was the event that had boxing purists fulminating. The world's media could hardly wait, however, and nor could millions of viewers who paid $25 (£18) to watch it on pay-TV. Twenty-five years after Muhammad Ali and "Smokin'" Joe Frazier battered one another in three successive fights, their daughters were meeting to reawaken the legend.

And if you closed your eyes between the rounds on Friday ­ the women took their encounter through all eight of them ­ you might almost have believed it was real. "Ali. Ali. Ali," the crowd of mostly white young men bellowed. When you opened them, of course, the illusion was wrecked. The daughters weren't their fathers.

For sure, though, the night was an improvement on two years ago, when Leila Ali, 23, made her debut in the same casino. Her opponent that night fought like a terrified waitress and was sprawled on the canvas after less than 40 seconds of the opening round. Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, who is 39 and a mother of three, had staying power and a tricky left arm.

But the crowd finally got what it came for ­ an Ali victory. It was pretty close though, with two of three judges giving the fight to the younger woman and the third seeing it as a draw. And the eight two-minute rounds were not without moments of sporting excitement. If boxing is something you find remotely exciting, of course.

There was the Frazier recovery in the last two rounds. Done up in what looked like a two-piece dustbin liner from a distance, Ms Frazier seemed like a goner in the middle rounds, but then suddenly perked up. Her best punch, a nasty left-hook to Leila's jaw, came midway through round seven and the Ali chants were silenced for a while.

Looking at her swollen left eye when the fight was over and the little reservoir of blood on the eye-ball itself, you had to wonder if Ms Frazier would have done better sticking to her real job as a personal injury lawyer in Philadelphia. But this woman, even after such a pounding, just couldn't stop smiling. The night, she wanted us to know, had been an achievement. "I think it was a good effort on my part," she boasted, even though she seems like a tower of modesty alongside the young Ali. The evening, Ms Frazier argued, had ensured good times ahead for women's boxing. The smile, however, was all about dollar signs. Even as the loser and with a cut from the pay-TV revenues, Ms Frazier was set to get at least $100,000.

Father Ali was not in the tent, although he was at Turning Stone two years ago for his daughter's first fight. A prior engagement had kept him away. Or that was the official story. Everyone knows of the bad blood that never really went away between Ali and Frazier. Mr Frazier was in the crowd in a snappy suit and straw Panama hat.

"I don't want the war carrying on like it has been between their fathers," Mr Frazier noted as his daughter was preparing to climb into the ring. He was striking an unusually gracious tone. When Ali was chosen to light the Olympic flame for the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Frazier went on the record worrying that his old foe might topple right into it. Ali has been unsteady for years, because of Parkinson's Disease.

Those who were disgusted with the pantomime of Ali-Frazier IV even before it started will remain disgusted now. Both women, of course, are unashamedly exploiting the fame of their dads. It is about dollars and fame, however much they say it is about paying tribute to the old Ali and Frazier.

"In truth, it is a blot upon their legends," said New York Post boxing correspondent Wallace Matthews. "A perversion of a classic sports trilogy that everyone involved with ought to be ashamed of."

You have to admit, though, Leila and Jacqui are hardly the first offspring of famous dads to take advantage of their lineage. If George Bush Jr can make a convincing US president, after all, why shouldn't they pretend to be boxers?

And be prepared for more to come. There, sitting under ropes right in the front row, was a handsome woman watching every twitch and turn in the ring with intense interest. Her name was Freeda Foreman ­ yes, the daughter of George. And yes, she is in the boxing business too.

"Freeda Foreman, I'm coming to get you baby, I'm coming to get you." This was the message from Leila Frazier as she departed the tent on Friday night.