Lee Groves

10: Notable Philadelphia title fights

6. December 10, 1968, Spectrum — Joe Frazier W 15 Oscar Bonavena II, New York world heavyweight title


Setting the Stage: Twenty-seven months earlier “Ringo” came the closest to snuffing out “Smokin’ Joe,” dropping him twice in round two and matching Frazier in strength and fortitude. Since then the still-undefeated Frazier had won nine fights, including New York’s recognition as heavyweight champion after Muhammad Ali had been stripped for refusing to acquiesce to military service during the Vietnam War. As Frazier prepared for his second defense many wondered just how far he had advanced as a fighter and Bonavena — who had gone 17-1 (12 KOs) since losing to Frazier — looked to be an appropriate barometer.

What Happened: Frazier had come a long, long way since September 1966. Next to his victory over Ali, this was the best long-haul performance of Frazier’s career.

Starting unusually fast, Frazier blasted away with nonstop punches at every available target for 15 straight rounds. Although the 207-pound Bonavena held a four-pound weight advantage and the thicker upper body, the Argentine spent most of the fight covering up against the ropes and fighting only in spurts because that’s all he could have done against Frazier’s ferocity. Frazier cut Bonavena’s left eye in the sixth and his bludgeoning rights swelled Bonavena’s right orb by the eighth. Only Bonavena’s extraordinary bravery and toughness enabled him to withstand Frazier’s 45 minutes of fire and brimstone without hitting the canvas, though he appeared ready to crack in the latter stages of the 10th. With this dominant performance, the clamor for a unification fight with WBA titlist Jimmy Ellis rose significantly.

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