Thursday, December 23, 1999

Frazier-Ali female edition? Hey, why not?




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        News that Jacqui Frazier Lyde wants a piece of Laila Ali — nearly a quarter of a century after their fathers last fought — reminds us that pugilism and pandering go hand-in-glove. If there are enough people who will pay to see it, boxing will find some way to stage it.

        Muhammad Ali's daughter has been fighting professionally for less than three months. Joe Frazier's daughter will not make her boxing debut until February. Both women are relative novices whose greatest asset is name recognition. Neither one would have attracted much notice were they not descended from famous heavyweights.

        At 38, Lyde is a little old to be breaking into the business. At 168 pounds, Ali is a little light for Lyde's weight class. But because the two women share a common heritage and arouse a morbid curiosity, it shouldn't be long before some enterprising promoter pounces on the opportunity to pair them in the ring. It's a wonder Don King hasn't done it already.

        Just imagine the hype. Ali-Frazier IV: My daughter can beat up your daughter.

        “It would be a great draw,” Jacqui Frazier Lyde told the New York Post. “It would establish Laila financially, and then I would establish her horizontally.”

        The bout is probably inevitable. Women's boxing has existed in some form since at least the 1720s, and has become widely legal and progressively lucrative as the millennium approaches its closing bell. Christy Martin is better known than most of the top heavyweight contenders, and better looking than at least some of them. Laila Ali earned $25,000 for her last fight, which lasted less than two rounds.

Anything goes
        How do you convince someone making more than $4,000 per minute that punching people is not ladylike?

        The enlightened male is against glass ceilings. The enlightened female is against glass jaws. The paradox of women's boxing is that the bleeding hearts who would sanction it are hard-pressed to reconcile the bleeding heads that result from it.

        But as the lines blur between sport and spectacle, and as boxing sinks ever lower in legitimacy and prestige, virtually anything goes. The state of Washington recently approved a bout between a woman and a man. (She won). Henry Akinwande, the World Boxing Association's mandatory challenger for heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, was forced to pull out of a Mississippi fight card last week because of an injury. His scheduled opponent: former wrestler Tony Halme, a.k.a. Ludwig Borga.

        At its best, boxing is a brutal business. At its worst, it is a freak show. But the fight game never had any pretense about purity. “Boxing is like a corkscrew,” said Detroit sage Doc Greene, who left sportswriting to become a promoter. “If you straighten it out, it isn't any good.”

What about nostalgia act
        If Jacqui Frazier Lyde and Laila Ali are exploiting their fathers' fame, is this any worse than George Foreman or Larry Holmes cashing in as nostalgia acts? Is it any different than Nancy Sinatra's singing career or Mike Brown's climb up the pro football ladder?

        All of us must play the hand we're dealt in life. Some of us start out with a few extra aces.

        “I like boxing,” Laila Ali said after her last bout. “I'm good at it. What else can I say?”

        She could have said she was The Greatest. She could have said she had floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. She could have recited a poem or remarked on how pretty she was or invoked Howard Cosell. But she resisted the temptation to parody her famous father.

        Muhammad Ali was an original who spawned a thousand imitators. Joe Frazier was a relentless force of nature. Their bouts were among the most compelling in history — a stark contrast in style, a striking similarity of will, a competition that temporarily elevated the fight game out of its accustomed place in the gutter.

        It's no wonder their daughters have been drawn to the ring, or that in going there they have found a niche. Boxing is mostly about novelty acts anymore, and the public has grown tired of Mike Tyson.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE