Sunday, February 23, 2020

Still the Same

On October 1, 1975 I went to the Aud in downtown Buffalo to watch the Thrilla in Manila.  In the car with me were two roommates and one of my professors.  I was in my third and last year of my doctoral program at the University and this professor had expressed his enthusiasm for Muhammad Ali and how he never missed one of his fights.

At the time nearly all heavyweight prize fights were not shown on television. A year or two later, Ali, insisted that his fights be available on television because he wanted all to see them regardless of wealth. I can't recall exactly how much a ticket was to see the fight on what was then called "closed circuit tv." But I do remember that there were times that the price of admission was prohibitive. So, I am guessing it was likely 10 dollars a ticket which according to an inflation calculator I found on google would be about 47 dollars today.

The Thrilla in Manila was the third fight between Ali and his nemesis Joe Frazier. Frazier had won the first bout, Ali the rematch, and this was the one to break the tie.  It was much ballyhooed and while both combatants were African-Americans, Ali had the majority of support from the black community.  In many ways he had engineered this support. This made Frazier furious as he wanted to be supported as well.

The four of us sat in the upper deck of the Aud, the same building where the Buffalo Sabres and then NBA Buffalo Braves played.  A big movie screen was draped from the ceiling and we all, thousands of us, watched the fight from the Philippines.  the majority of the audience was African American and it sure seemed to me that with every round that Frazier won there was disappointment in the arena, and whenever Ali was successful with his punches, the crowd went wild.  Ali eventually prevailed after a strong 14th round, after which Frazier could not answer the bell for the 15th.

Last night I picked Donna up at the airport very late, or late for me.  The flight was scheduled to come in at 11.  It actually arrived at 1045, but the bags were slow to come off at the carousel. Note to friends if you ever have me pick you up at terminal B at Logan airport. Make sure you carry a copy of War and Peace in your carry on luggage. Whenever I go to terminal B, there is some breakdown somewhere at the baggage claim and you can wait til the cows come home before the first bags come by.  Last night three planes full of people were waiting at carousel 2. The bags from Donna's flight were nowhere. Finally I got on line at the service area for American, but I needn't have because in front of me was a squat passenger who was spewing venom at the attendant complaining that she had been waiting since tish b' av and it was late.  Finally the bags came down.  It took me less time to drive to the airport and drive back from the airport than it took for the bags to arrive.  Nobody on the highway. Fifteen minutes in, fifteen minutes back, forty minutes waiting for the bags. You do not want me picking you up from Terminal B if you checked your bag. Very bad luck.

It was shortly before midnight when we arrived home.  I checked my computer and was reminded that the heavyweight bout between Fury and Wilder was scheduled for last night.  I did a quick search and saw that the undercard (the fights that precede the main event) was nearly over. 

There had been a lot of talk about the fight. Tyson Fury a white boxer from Great Britain vs. Deontay Wilder, an African-American from Alabama.  I'd seen a recording of the first fight between the two when the bout ended in what is called a split draw.  One referee had the fight for Fury, another for Wilder, a third had the bout as a draw.   Neither of the fighters had ever lost before their first match and came into the rematch undefeated.

I feel like I want to see the fight.  It is not on live tv and it costs 80 dollars to watch it at home streaming via ESPN+.  I am not a graduate student any longer but I am not paying 80 bananas to watch a fight that could last two minutes.  I call around and there is a sports bar not far from where I live which is showing the match. Five dollars to get in; cheaper than Buffalo in 1975.

I ask Donna if she wants to go and she, after having just taken two flights to get home and waited with me for her bags to drop for 40 minutes, looks at me as if to ask, "when was the lobotomy?"
She says something along the lines of "No. Go knock yourself out."

I get to Jake and Joes at midnight or a few minutes after.  I cannot believe how crowded the parking lot is.  Bars typically close at 1 and at that time all you have are stragglers.  The lot is jammed and so is the lot on the other side of the bar.  I go in and the place is also jammed. Not a seat to be found and this is a very large sports bar. Must be fifty television sets and at least that many tables, maybe 100 tables.  Place is packed.

The fight starts and I am jolted back into 1975.  What is happening in the sports bar is that people of color are cheering for Wilder, and the white folks--except for the white folks with black friends and partners--are cheering every time Fury connects.  This reminds me of 1975 and the Thrilla in Manila when the African Americans in the aud were wildly screaming for Ali and, for the most part, the few white patrons were rooting for Frazier.

I did not like this.  Is it still 1975 with racial identification such that if you are black you root for the blacks and if you are white you cheer for the whites.  I looked around. Every time Wilder connected there were whoops from some tables and every time Fury hit the whites were applauding.  As opposed to the first fight which I thought Wilder had won, Fury was clearly winning this match. Wilder just did not seem ready. The referee stopped the fight in the 7th and Fury won on a TKO.

As far as the fight went, this was not nearly as closely contested as the Thrilla in Manila.  And both Ali and Frazier would have whupped either Wilder or Fury.  But it wasn't the fight that has stayed with me.  It is the sense that we have not progressed that much even in a liberal blue state like Massachusetts.  Did not like the feeling as I drove home.