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Archive for the ‘Boxing’ Category

The Ten Most Bitter Sporting Feuds – Part 2

In Boxing, Football, Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Ayrton Senna Vs Alain Prost

It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most dangerous and glamorous sports in the world produced a rivalry with all the elements to make it the key component of a Hollywood movie. It’s not difficult to see why either – in the space of a few years the story saw friends turned into bitter enemies and it ended in tragedy.

Having formed a dream partnership together at McLaren in 1988 the two drivers contrasting styles saw them take fifteen out of sixteen wins in that season between them. Prost was methodical and mature, the thinking man’s racer whose attention to detail in set-up was the stuff of legend. Senna was younger, a more brash and flamboyant driver and come the end of the season it would be him who would win the title. Prost didn’t seem to harbour too much of a grudge about it conceding that Senna had been “too good”.

Yet, Senna’s aggression had angered Prost and the rivalry was truly born when Senna reneged on their gentleman’s agreement to let whoever was in the lead from the first lap maintain that lead without challenge. During the second round of the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix it was Senna who took the lead, only for the race to be restarted due to a crash. This time it was Prost who took the lead but Senna was having none of it, overtaking his teammate and speeding off into the distance.

What followed down the years was as intense a rivalry as sports had seen, both drivers publicly denigrating the other with numeorus barbs at press conferences off the track and battling each other with risky overtaking and vehicle collisions on it. Both also battled each other for titles, something that continued until Prost’s retirement at the end of the 1993 season.

Although Senna had never indicated it during their time as competitors he was heard saying on radio at the 1994 at San Marion, where the rivalry was born, “A special Hello to my dear friend Alain. We all miss you.” It was to prove to be Senna’s last race when his life was claimed in the last fatal crash that the sport has seen. Prost paid him the only tribute he knew how – “I have lost my greatest rival. The only driver that I ever respected…”

Muhammed Ali Vs Joe Frazier

A lot of the trash talking that surrounds boxers is there purely for hyping the fights. Even when it has genuine sentiment behind it, the general consensus is that any ill feeling is left in the ring, the true indicator of boxing’s roots as a sport fixated with gentlemanly conduct. Not so between two of the greatest names the fight game has ever seen, the rivalry still simmering now even in their old age.

Naturally it was Ali who started it. The “greatest of all time” before he was the greatest of all time always abused his opponents pre-fight but before his first encounter with Frazier he seemed to cross a line when he referred to him as “too dumb” to be champion and an “Uncle Tom”. Frazier wasn’t short of ammunition calling Ali a draft dodger and goading him by refusing to refer to him by his Islamic name and still using Casius Clay throughout the build up. Both fighters were undefeated and in the bout dubbed “The Fight Of The Century” it was Frazier who took both of Ali’s titles in a unanimous decision.

A rematch in 1974 went the way of Ali and it set up their third and final fight, The Thrilla in Manila. If there was any chance that Ali would have gained some respect for his opponent after having lost to him once before, it wasn’t evident from the way he continued to speak about Smokin’ Joe. He said he was “over the hill” and called him a gorilla. The 1975 fight was another classic, Ali earning a TKO in the 14th and it would be the last time they met but not the last time they battled.

Upon learning that Ali had Parkinsons in 1996 Frazier said “’They want me to love him but I’ll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the good Lord chooses to take him.” Ali offered an apology in 2001, which Frazier was said to have accepted without comment.

Brian Clough Vs Don Revie

The most famous managerial rivalry in football and one that makes Wenger and Fergie look like firm friends, these two unashamedly spoke of their great dislike of one another in public at every given opportunity.

While manager at Derby Clough was extremely vocal about Revie’s Leeds team who he saw as being an overly negative and “dirty” team who used questionable tactics to win games at all costs. As he berated both their methods and success he held himself up as a champion of stylish football. He even put his name to an article that appeared in the Sunday Express that called for Revie to be fined and Leeds to be relegated to Division 2. It was an unprecedented outburst.

Revie had little time for Clough’s criticism seeing the disrespect as both foolish and unprofessional. A staunch believer in winning at all costs he saw his Leeds team as one to be applauded for their never say die attitude and couldn’t understand how someone who wanted to win as much as he did couldn’t appreciate the virtues of the team.

When Revie was left Leeds and given the job Clough always wanted as manager of England, Clough became his successor and the madness that followed in a 44 day tenure has been well documented, spawning an award winning book and a spin-off movie in “The Damned United”. Clough had no love in the dressing room from players he’d previously berated and tried to make wholesale changes. Revie saw this as a pathetic attempt to destroy his legacy.

While the feud would last throughout the lives its most memorable moment came when both confronted each other in an interview on Yorkshire Television in 1974. Coming after Clough had left Leeds, what he saw as his only failure, the two tore strips off each other and left the hapless interviewer a bystander.

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The Sound of Thunder Now Quiet

In Boxing on July 12, 2009 at 3:11 pm

The boxing world was united in mourning today when it was confirmed that Arturo Gatti had been found dead in his Brazilian condo. With police reports stating that they cannot rule out foul play given the nature of the injuries found on the body it seems that the fighter, who was plagued with personal problems outside of the ring, will continue to make headlines after he his untimely death at only 37.

arturo-gatti

One of Canada’s most successful fighters, Gatti was someone that once you had seen him in action you could never forget. It was like someone peeled a Rocky Balboa right off the celluloid  and dropped him into reality, never telling him that all out aggression was the stuff of movies not the more unforgiving fight game. His unrelenting style was one of the things that kept him out of that special bracket reserved for the great and god-like, but it was the same quality that made him a fan’s favourite the world over. To watch him fight was to be entertained. His desire to not only win, but to achieve victory in the most spectacular means possible, made him the boxing equivalent of a Brazilian soccer player.

His credentials as an entertainer can be verified through watching some of his legendary bouts. There can be few who don’t remember his 1996 IBF World Super-Featherweight Title defence against Wilson Rodriguez. Gatti looked in big trouble, being dropped in the second round and with his right eye almost sealed shut due to bruising. It was the true grit of champions that saw Arturo through, enabling him to floor his opponent with a crippling body shot  in the fifth, then end the fight in the next round by TKO with a flurry of unanswered blows. The bout was nominated for “fight of the year” by Ring Magazine, starting a hat-trick of nominations for this award with two victories, but surprisingly this fight wasn’t one of them.

It was the kind of feat it seemed only Gatti could pull off regularly. Another title defence the following year, this time against Gabriel Ruelas, ended in similar fashion. The Canadian looking to have been beaten when he was reeling from a vicious uppercut and took over a dozen punches offering little in the way of reply. Literally saved by the bell, it seemed that from that point the fight could only go one way. But Gatti, unlike his cinematic counterpart, didn’t follow scripts and came out all guns blazing even though still clearly groggy. He knocked Ruelas out with a devastating left and sent the crowd into raptures.

Perhaps he is best known for his trilogy of fights against Irish man Micky Ward. Each installment was worthy of note, but the third again showed the gladiatorial courage readily associated with the fighter. A failed uppercut that connected with Ward’s hip saw Gatti break his hand and have to fight the rest of the contest effectively one-handed, only throwing his injured right sparingly, yet still won a unanimous points victory despite being floored. It was another unbelievable classic thanks to a fighter that continually produced the extraordinary in the ring.

Retiring with a record of 49 fights, 40 victories and 31 of those coming by way of knockout is something that speaks for itself, but as with all things statistics only tell a small fraction of the story. To watch Gatti fight was to see the simple purity of the sport in action, no gimmicks, no politics, just one man willing to go as far as it took to come out victorious and to make the crowd cheer his name. In a sport that has been polluted by external factors it is arguable that the true champions are those that remain incorruptible and humble, giving back priceless indelible memories in place of what they take.

And so it is a true tragedy that there will be no chance to reminisce of those great moments with the man himself, to see the genuine affection that many felt for this most earnest of fighters become fully realised in a time when the sport cries out for someone with his entertaining sensibilities. Instead we are left with little more ahead than morbid details, answers to questions no one wanted to ask. Boxing will no longer be the same now that the man they called “Thunder” is quiet.