Jones Files: The day Moresby fight fans heckled Smokin’ Joe

By Richard Jones

SMOKIN’ Joe Frazier, one-time world heavyweight boxing champion, landed in Port Moresby in late March 1975. Joe and his entourage flew in from Melbourne where Joe had beaten a top rated opponent in Jimmy Ellis in a scheduled 12-rounder. In fact Frazier won on a ninth round TKO with Ellis unable to continue.
When the Frazier party got to Port Moresby the young Papua New Guineans had a first-hand chance to pour scorn on Joe.
For the majority of PNG fans the world’s most famous person of the day, Muhammad Ali, was their idol.
Not that the locals didn’t show up in their thousands when Moresby promoters cobbled together a few exhibition rounds to allow Joe to go through his paces.
A couple of athletic local personalities agreed to step into the ring with the feared Frazier. Most notable was big, blond rugby league player James “Digger” Annand. Digger was a true Moresby identity and he towered over the nuggety, barrel chested Frazier when the bell sounded for Round 1.
My enduring memory of Frazier is of his huge thighs. He had to have specially tailored boxing shorts made for all his fights.
With his reach advantage Annand poked out long lefts. Frazier went into his characteristic crouch, bobbing and weaving.
Mercifully the champ didn’t connect with any of his trademark left hooks, one of which had sent Ali sprawling onto his back during their epic first world heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
No great punches of any consequence were landed in the Annand-Frazier exhibition bout, nor in the one which followed.
At the end of proceedings the Royal PNG Constabulary members were unable to hold back the excited fans.
“Joe Fraze-ee-yah. You not in the same class as Muhammad Ali,” was the common refrain. Eventually the more hot-headed interlopers were led away.
Frazier was certainly a magnificent fighter in an era when the class of world heavyweights going around was at an all-time high. Smokin’ Joe was one of the greats, but for the Moresby masses Muhammad Ali was their champ.

A FEW months later — on October 1, 1975 — Ali and Frazier met for the WBA and WBC world heavyweight titles. The fight has gone down in history as perhaps the fiercest, most brutal boxing contest ever staged. It truly earned its unofficial title of the Thrilla in Manila.
In oppressive heat and humidity, the two famous fighters slugged it out for 14 rounds. With the 15th and final round about to start Frazier remain slumped in his corner as trainer and cornerman Eddie Futch told the referee his man could not continue.
As a result of Futch’s action, which handed Ali the decision, Frazier never spoke to his trainer again. Ali, for his part, later described his own condition at the time as “the closest thing to death” he had ever known.
In March 1975, as I stood in that Port Moresby ring holding Joe Frazier’s hands, little was I to know that those same hands would bring the Philadelphia champion so close to a second world heavyweight boxing crown just six months later.

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