By Lyle Fitzsimmons
If anyone’s wondering… the answer is yes.
As I headed north on I-75 Saturday and heard the news on ESPN Radio that a certain former heavyweight champion was in the final stages of a battle with liver cancer, I did feel bad.
And when I heard Tuesday morning that he’d succumbed to the disease, I felt worse.
In spite of anything I’ve ever written, thought or otherwise opined about Joe Frazier regarding his deserved rank among the sport’s all-time greats, I surely wasn’t wishing any ill upon him.
I didn’t hate the man. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.
Having only competed in the ring myself on the smallest of scales, I have tremendous respect for anyone with the courage to have done it on a larger one – and even bigger admiration for those who’ve earned anything beyond moderate levels of success in doing so.
Clearly, Joe was one of those guys.
He was, for a time, the best heavyweight in the business. He did, under the brightest of spotlights, win a fight that set the standard for all “Fights of the Century” that have followed.
He had, without question, a career the other 99.9 percent would have killed for.
Those are facts only a fool would deny.
But whether I believe his bust in Canastota is worthwhile or not is, at this point, immaterial.
And regardless of where anyone else weighs in on the debate, it’s hardly a time to toss verbal grenades back and forth determining whether the opposite viewpoint holds any water.
There was time for that in months past. There’ll be time for it again someday.
But right now, we ought all simply agree to respect the accomplishments the man had, hope for his family as much comfort as is possible and wish him well in whatever life exists in the next phase past this one.
Rest easy, Champ, and thank you.
The sport is better for you having been part of it.
* * * * * * * * * *
Elsewhere, rumor has it there’s a fight in Las Vegas this weekend.
But as much as I’d love to sleep Saturday having watched Juan Manuel Marquez be awarded the victory I’ve thought he deserved at least once in two previous meetings with Manny Pacquiao, there’s no blueprint in my head that I can draw for him to make it happen this time around.
Now that he’s beyond a comfort zone in the 126-130-135 corridor, it’s my guess Marquez has gained himself out of any real chance he had of slowing the Filipino juggernaut.
The same shots that dropped JMM multiple times at featherweight and junior lightweight seem almost certain to do so again, with the only difference being that he’s far more unlikely to absorb the blows from a rock-solid 144-pounder with any hope of offering a volley in return.
I’ll be mildly surprised if the three-match even makes its way to the double-digit rounds, and all out stunned if the brave Mexican finishes with anything other than a wide scorecard loss or the first inside-the-distance defeat of an 18-year pro career.
* * * * * * * * * *
And, from there… let the circus begin.
Or, if you prefer, end.
Though either man could surely conjure up a different paycheck-seeking stand-in, the final bell of Pacquiao’s erasure of Marquez should be followed by one thing… and one thing only.
A post-fight announcement – in center ring or the subsequent presser – saying all the t’s are crossed, all the i’s are dotted and all the hurdles are jumped to bring fans the only fight that really matters for May 5, 2012… Mayweather-Pacquiao.
The specifics are no longer remotely important.
Take the drugs tests or don’t. Split the purses evenly or don’t.
Put one guy’s name higher on the marquee or don’t.
Just get it done, for Christ’s sake.
While it’s been every scribe’s favorite parlor game since Manny made the jump to giant-killer three winters back, the “Will they or won’t they?” thing – once he gets through Saturday night unscathed – will have officially out-lived its usefulness.
Because, let’s face it, Bob. No one really wants Pacquiao-Bradley.
Sorry, Richard. But only the hard-cores care about Floyd-Martinez.
And I can’t think of anyone in any camp not long turned off by the drawn-out foreplay.
The only fight that leads SportsCenter, draws evening news anchors and warrants another concert on Kimmel is Mayweather-Pacquiao. The only fight that blows past existing PPV-buy records is Mayweather-Pacquiao. The only fight that nets each guy his own Fort Knox is Mayweather-Pacquiao.
The line’s been drawn in the sand. The threshold for d*cking around has been reached.
Make the fight even casual fans are excited about.
Or risk losing another generation to neck-challenged behemoths in chain-link cages.
To close, barely a month before Christmas, I’ll make my plea with a holiday theme…
Although it’s been begged; many times, many ways.
Get it signed, guys.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Manny Pacquiao (champion) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (unranked)
Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KO): Third title defense; Beat Marquez (SD 12) in 2008, drew in 2004
Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KO): Thirteenth title fight (8-3-1, 3 KO); Second fight past 140 pounds (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “As he did with Morales, Pac ends trilogy with concussive exclamation.” Pacquiao in 8
WBO junior welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Timothy Bradley (champion) vs. Joel Casamayor (No. 10 contender)
Bradley (27-0, 11 KO): Fourth title defense; Held WBC in 2008-09 (two defenses)
Casamayor (38-5-1, 22 KO): Tenth title fight (6-3, 4 KO); Held titles at 130 (WBA) and 135 (WBC)
Fitzbitz says: “Bradley’s not a P4P elite, but too much for ancient Cuban warhorse.” Bradley by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 4-0
Overall picks record: 261-86 (75.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.