It has been 26 years since Joe Frazier sat on a stool in his corner of the ring in the sweltering heat of Manila and tried futilely to see through badly swollen eyes.
When Frazier failed to answer the bell for the 15th round of his heavyweight title match against Muhammad Ali, it sounded the end of a trilogy for the ages, three mind-numbing, body-breaking matches between the two boxers.
Although he lost the first fight, the biggest of the last half-century in terms of hype and drama and social importance, Ali went on to win the next two, making him the overall victor in the public's mind.
But what really hurt Frazier, more than the public perception, more than the sting of those Ali jabs and punches that landed Frazier in the hospital after their first meeting, were the verbal blows Ali landed.
Frazier wasn't unique. Ali went after every opponent with his big mouth before he got down to business with his fists. He would label them with insulting nicknames and belittle them.
He did it to hype the fight, damage his opponents' confidence and, ideally, make them so angry that they abandoned their game plan, lost control and came out swinging wildly, looking for blood.
Ali once said he may have won half his fights before he ever stepped into the ring.
So Sonny Liston became the Bear.
And Floyd Patterson became the Rabbit.
And George Foreman became the Mummy.
And George Chuvalo became the Washerwoman.
And in their long, grueling series of matches, Frazier became many things, none of them complimentary.
He was the Gorilla. He was dumb. He was an Uncle Tom. He was a tool of the white power structure that supported the Vietnam War.
Was any of that true? What did truth have to do with it?
Once a fight was over, Ali was happy to abandon his shtick and move on to the next opponent, with no hard feelings.
He has harbored hard feelings for a quarter of a century. There have been conciliatory gestures between the men in recent years, but, earlier this month, when Ali's daughter, Laila Ali, fought Frazier's daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, in Verona, N.Y., Joe's old feelings resurfaced in an ugly fashion.
"God has shut him down," Frazier says in referring to the fact Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, has trouble speaking. "He can't talk no more because he was saying the wrong things, making other people look like bad guys.
"He would say, 'I am the Greatest.' He can't be the anything because there is only one The and that is the Lord. He is going to have to get on his knees and ask for forgiveness."
Frazier still bristles at Ali's characterization of him as an ugly gorilla.
"I've got no problem finding women who love me," Frazier says.
But, he insists, he is not carrying a grudge.
"I'm over it," he says. "I'm willing to shut the noise down. We've all got only a few days left on this world. We should show the world how to love. I'm not a hateful guy. I was only fighting back against what he was saying at the time, but I'm tired of fighting."
Frazier wasn't tired on the night of March 8, 1971, when he won a 15-round decision over Ali at New York's Madison Square Garden in a battle called the Fight of the Century. The memory of that evening still brings a smile to Frazier's face.
"Nothing could hurt me that night," Frazier says. "I was Superbrother. I was unbeatable."
Frazier, 57, has been working with his daughter after grudgingly accepting the fact she is determined to keep fighting.
"It was not my idea," Frazier says. "She's 38 and she wants to be a fighter so, even though it's not something I would have approved of, I've got to help her."
Maybe dealing with his daughter and her future in the ring will enable Frazier to finally let go of the past.
Nothing else has worked.
They Will Also Fight
On the undercard of tonight's Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo super-welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena will be an International Boxing Federation junior-featherweight title match between the champion, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba (33-1-1, 22 knockouts) of South Africa and Manny Pacquiao (32-2, 23) of the Philippines, a former World Boxing Council flyweight champion. Ledwaba will be defending his belt for the sixth time.
Also on the card will be a match for the vacant World Boxing Organization junior-featherweight title between Agapito Sanchez (37-7-1, 19) of the Dominican Republic and Jorge Monsalvo (29-1, 24) of Colombia.
Fighting in the preliminary matches will be 2000 Olympians Jose Navarro, a bantamweight, Jermain Taylor, a middleweight, and Michael Bennett, a heavyweight.
Also tonight, Kostya Tszyu (26-1-1, 22) of Australia will defend his WBC/World Boxing Assn. super-lightweight championship against Oktay Urkal (28-0, 9) of Turkey, and Zab Judah (26-0, 20 with one no-contest) will put his IBF junior-welterweight championship on the line against Allan Vester (18-0-1, 3) of Denmark in Uncasville, Conn., on a card to be shown delayed on Showtime at 10 p.m. In a preliminary match, Francisco "Panchito" Bojado (5-0, 5), the 18-year-old sensation from East Los Angeles who represented Mexico in the 2000 Olympics, will face Glenn Forde (9-5-2, 4) of Guyana in a six-round match. . . . Lightweights Ernie Zavala (11-1, 3) and Rolando Reyes (7-2-1, 4) will square off in Thursday night's main event at the Irvine Marriott.