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Laila Ali vs. Jacqui Frazier-Lyde

Turning Stone Casino, Verona, New York, June 8 2001
fight report by Dee Williams
originally published on the Women's Boxing Page

It didn't have the skilled boxing of Blackshear vs. Sidoroff or Wolfe vs. Williams, nor the knockdown bloody-nosed drama of Gogarty vs. Martin. But it wasn't the "Groaner in Verona", either.

Much of the women's boxing world was biting its collective fingernails in case the most publicized women's bout in history became a fistic fiasco. After all, some (male) wit had labelled it Dames with Names. It was indeed a case of two raw, if not exactly young, boxers going at it for major moolah (six-figure purses) while still in the single digits in total bouts fought.

Ali was considered a strong favorite, as she had shown she could take a punch (she'd come off the canvas to win by TKO after being decked by Karen Bill) and she had defeated a serious contender in Kendra Lenhart . Lenhart went on from losing to Ali, on points, to knock out several-time world champion Valerie Mahfood.

Frazier-Lyde had racked up seven KO wins, but against opponents with a combined 2-21-1 record, none of them on a par with Bill or Lenhart. Her 7-0 record simply did not give much of a clue about what she was truly made of.

The biggest question was whether 39-year-old Frazier-Lyde would bring enough into the ring to make a decent fight of it. A huge unknown was the true strength of her motivation. This fight was, after all, her whole reason for being in the ring. After watching Ali's laugher of a debut in October 1999, Frazier-Lyde had correctly concluded that she had a unique shot at doubling the value of the new "famous daughter" currency by hyping a generational grudge match with the 23-year-old Ali. Ali had wanted none of it, and at times appeared embarrassed by the prospect of doing fistic business with the extrovert Philadelphia lawyer. Ali had looked like the better schooled boxer in her earlier fights, but there had been little chance to see what, if anything, Frazier-Lyde would bring to the ring along with her bluster.

In a striking reversal of their fathers' talents outside the ring, Frazier-Lyde was the one who could talk a blue streak, toss the verbal jabs and combinations, and "sell" the fight while Ali scowled and looked embarrassed.

Nobody knew from watching Jacqui's first seven fights whether there was really anything behind the verbal barrage. Was she hyping something that couldn't exist? "Smoke" and Mirrors? So as the media flocked to Verona to cover the 16-minute bout (300 press credentials were issued for the 8000 seat tent, about two-thirds as many as were issued for the NCAA women's basketball Final Four), you could almost hear the collective holding of breath around the women's boxing community in case Ali-Frazier IV became a huge black eye for the sport.

Some dinosaurs within the male boxing community were waiting for another excuse to "prove" that "girls can't fight", for the daughters to somehow sully the image of a sport that's survived an ear-chomping champion, sanctioning bodies who can rank dead boxers, corrupt promoters, and so on. Some even hoped that the Turning Stone would provide the turning point ... after which the public would yawn, turn away from women's boxing and leave the sport to the men to whom they say it "rightfully belongs".

 Well, Ali-Frazier IV wasn't sweet science, but it wasn't half bad, either. Both boxers really had come to fight, and they turned in eight occasionally wild and woolly but action-packed rounds. It was an entertaining fight whose outcome seemed to be in doubt (except apparently to one judge) during a hard-hitting final round. It was good entertainment in a PPV landscape that's frequently been devoid of that (unless you're into cannibalism on the side). The men have often done a lot worse after a comparable amount of hype.

Laila Ali (160¾ lbs, now 10-0 with 8 KO's) won a majority decision over Jacqui Frazier-Lyde (164 lbs, now 7-1 with 7 KO's) by using better boxing skills. But Frazier-Lyde took Ali's best shots and pressured her into fighting in her own brawling style much of the way. Frazier-Lyde maintained a fast pace, didn't fold when the going got sticky, and in an echo of the Frazier style, she kept on coming in the later rounds to stagger Laila several times and to keep the outcome in doubt until the scorecards were in.

In the ring, there were even faint but recognizable echoes of their fathers as Ali tried to box and showboat a little while Frazier plainly came to fight with a lot of heart.

Frazier-Lyde came out smoking at first, apparently looking for the quick KO she had gained in her other fights and had predicted for this one.

This surprised nobody, including Ali. Frazier-Lyde's one shot at winning this fight outright was thought to be her puncher's chance at ending it early. Ali withstood the onslaught, countered with shots to the head and went toe to toe with Frazier-Lyde as the second round wound down.

Ali showed her own punching power as she landed hard lefts to Frazier-Lyde's head in the third round. One of these liberated Frazier-Lyde's mouthguard, and Jacqui was staggered on several occasions. It began to look as if Ali might take charge in the next few rounds, but to her credit Frazier-Lyde really had come to fight and she didn't fold. Ali landed several hard rights to Frazier-Lyde's head as the fourth was winding down and did some showboating in the fifth, evoking memories of her father (who was not at the fight). Ali had claimed she would try to drag the fight out so she could put a beating on Frazier-Lyde, and it briefly looked like she might get her wish.

 But Frazier-Lyde wasn't done. She continued to pressure and go for the KO and she wobbled a fading Ali several times in the late going. Frazier-Lyde ended the fight with her left eye swollen and a hug from her father as the decision was announced. Judge Frankie Adams had scored the fight 79-73 for Ali, which did not do justice to a gritty performance by Frazier-Lyde. Judge Tommy Hicks had seen it as a 76-76 draw, while judge Don Ackerman called it 77-75 for Ali, leading to a majority decision for Laila Ali.

Ali has said all along that this was a one-shot deal and that she wants to fight for a title next time. Frazier-Lyde hopes that the interest generated by the first fight will change Laila's mind. She's also talking about fighting Freeda Foreman (whose bouts have so far been slow-motion affairs looking even less like boxing matches than Frazier-Lyde's early outings.)

Ali won the bout, but Frazier-Lyde was no loser. She'd showed she wasn't totally out of line to have made this the media event that she did. Nobody expected another Thrilla in Manila, perhaps the most epic struggle of all time in a boxing ring ... but the skeptics who dismissed Jacqui as "Second Hand Smoke" (and might have tried to use her a whipping girl for all of women's boxing if she'd turned the fight into flop) weren't given any ammo, either.

It wasn't a great athletic event, but it was an entertaining show by two boxers with less than twenty fights between them who came to fight, and did.

My fingernails can now start growing again. Those nay-sayers who hoped it would be a laugher that would embarrass women out of the pro ring didn't get their wish.

It was a fight. And there were no losers.

Dee Williams

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Page last updated: Wednesday, May 12, 2004

 
     
     
     
     
 

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