Bouts of Mania: Ali, Frazier and Foreman and an America on the Ropes

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CONCEPTUALLY, the idea of setting the monumental heavyweight contested between Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman against a backdrop of a 1970s United States experiencing social and political upheaval and a distant war for which its leaders ultimately had little appetite, is an compelling one.

A period that delivered US citizens a mix of Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation, the oil crisis, a Cold War with Russia, détente with China and a burgeoning civil rights movement began with National Guardsmen gunning down four unarmed students on a university campus following a demonstration. There’s enough here to fill several volumes even before we consider what three heavyweight boxers were up to.

According to Richard Hoffer, however, Ali, Frazier and Foreman gave America “a glimpse of better times to come”, although perhaps wisely, he touches upon politics and social upheaval only in passing, for this is a sports book, not a serious analysis of America’s rapidly changing social attitudes and values.

Unfortunately, much of this book’s content has already been covered – several times – and there’s little that Hoffer can add. Indeed, readers who have seen the When We Were Kings documentary may feel that much of the material aired in the film has been reheated and served in print format here.

There are better written accounts of the Rumble in the Jungle, the Ali v Foreman bout contested in Zaire, for which both men received $5 million, when Ali adopted his ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic, knocking his opponent out in the eighth round. Norman Mailer’s The Fight, an account of this over-hyped clash, has become a modern classic. David Remmick’s King of the World, an account of Ali’s rise to superstardom, is another text worthy of note.

Hoffer, an accomplished boxing writer, is very good describing the brutality of the meetings between Ali and Frazier, firstly in New York in 1971 and secondly, the Thriller in Manila several years later when Frazier’s corner threw the towel in after their man was blinded by Ali’s jabs. Readers expecting the author to somehow position bouts in Africa and the Philippines in a historic timeline of 1970’s America will, however, be disappointed.

Quiz question

We’ve teamed up with www.sportsbookofthemonth.com and have a copy of Bouts of Mania to give away.

To win this prize, visit the www.sportsbookofthemonth.com website and answer the following question:

In what year did Muhammad Ali win an Olympic gold medal?

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