Sunday, March 1, 2009

We'll call this tale--absolutely true, by the way--"A Brush With History, Complete with Twist Ending."

Our story begins in September 1980. I was visiting a friend in Jacksonville, where boxer Joe Frazier was going to be signing autographs at a local mall. Naturally, we made plans to attend.

You remember Smokin' Joe Frazier: The piston-driven former heavyweight champion of the world, the man who had taken Muhammed Ali's full measure--three times--and remained unbowed.

A simple autograph wasn't going to be enough for me, though--I had a devious scheme in mind. Before I left Panama City, I bought a copy of Muhammed Ali's autobiography The Greatest. My mission: To have Smokin' Joe autograph Ali's book.

Understand that in 1980 Ali and Frazier were bitter enemies. Frazier had always refused to acknowledge Ali's Muslim name and insisted on calling Ali by his old name--"Clay."

No doubt asking Frazier to sign Ali's book would be risky business. So I put my plan into action.

First, I removed the dust jacket to Ali's book and replaced it with the jacket from Nat Fleischer's 50 Years at Ringside, a boxing memoir from the 1950s.

"So," my friend said, "you're going to disguise Ali's book and get Joe to sign it. Pretty good." But I had another twist in mind. I drove to the mall and got in line to meet the ex-champ.

When I handed my book to the Smokin' One I said, "Joe, my name is Clay Monroe and I'd be thrilled if you'd sign this old boxing book and autograph it to me personally..." Frazier never felt the sting.

I waited until I got to the parking lot to let out a whoop. I was now the proud owner of Ali's autobiography, inscribed "To Clay, from Joe Frazier."

Back home in Panama City I showed off the book to friends, then put it in a closet and forgot about it. Not long ago, while sorting through some stored personal items, I found it: My trophy for owning an undefeated lifetime record against Joe Frazier.

I had given Joe the ol' bob-and-weave, and he'd never laid a glove on me.

Talk about smokin'!


Panama City News Herald, 7-27-2000