Wrong Place This Evening

The Wrong Place This Evening
LSU at Alabama

Muhammad Ali – “I’m God! Don’t you know I’m God?”
Joe Frazier – “God … you in the wrong place this evening.”

Ali-Frazier I March 8, 1971

He was in the wrong place that storied night at Madison Square Garden (Ali – not God). After fourteen brutal rounds, Frazier launched a left hook in the fifteenth that broke Ali’s jaw, knocked him to the canvas, and secured “Smokin Joe” a unanimous decision. It was Ali’s first loss.

On Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, two undefeated heavyweights meet when LSU travels to Alabama. Which team will be in the wrong place?

Ali and Frazier battled for the heavyweight title as unbeaten champions, a first in the annals of prize fighting. Ali was the better known man.

As Cassius Clay, he won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In 1964, he upset fearsome Sonny Liston in Miami Beach to win the heavyweight championship and a day later proclaimed his name change and his adherence to the Nation of Islam – he was a “Black Muslim.” So little known was this shadowy group to most of black America, and virtually all of white America, the Louisville Lip might as well have announced he was from Mars and adhered to the teachings of Ali Baba.

Ali reigned over the division into 1967 without a loss.

During that time, two social movements in the U.S. gained momentum. The Civil Rights Movement peaked in 1964 (Civil Rights Act) and 1965 (Voting Rights Act) then became more angry and threatening, with semi-fringe groups such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam preaching and practicing a virulent form of rebellion against social and political inequalities. A bit later, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement strengthened. Ali would become a symbol for both groups.

In 1967, Ali’s draft status was reclassified, making him eligible for the draft. When drafted, he refused induction (famously proclaiming “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”) and was stripped of his title and boxing license. Ali would not fight again until October 1970. He would whip Jerry Quarry that month and Oscar Bonavena in December as preludes to his “Fight of the Century” with Frazier.

Joe Frazier had quietly moved up the ranks of heavyweight contenders upon winning his own gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

After Ali was stripped of the belt, Frazier emerged as a top contender and won the title from Jimmy Ellis in 1970. He had defended his title once before beating Ali in March of 1971. That bout marked the apex of the finest era in heavyweight prize fighting history.

When Alabama plays LSU this weekend, the game may one day be looked at as the peak of SEC dominance over college football.

Like Ali and Frazier, neither team has lost. They are the top ranked contenders in the sport. It has been nearly six years since a team from another conference has worn the BCS crown.

In this contest, the Tide reminds me of Frazier and the Tigers of Ali.

LSU opened the season in grand fashion, dismantling last season’s runner-up Oregon 40-27. Les Miles and his Bengals backed that win up with easy victories over highly regarded Mississippi State and West Virginia in the next three weeks and no team has played them closer than 13 points all year. The Tigers have been a bit controversial too. Starting QB Jordan Jefferson was suspended for his role in a fight outside a bar, then reinstated and now shares time with Jarrett Lee. Two weeks ago, Miles suspended his best offensive player (Spencer Ware) and best defensive player (Tyrann Mathieu) for one game, but they were hardly missed as the Tigers swamped Auburn (last season’s BCS champion).

Alabama’s trek to the big game has been less eventful, but even more methodical and efficient. The Tide’s closest game was a 16-point win on the road over Penn State. Arkansas, the best team Bama has faced this season. fell by 24 points, Tennessee by 31, and Florida by 27. Similar to Frazier getting his shot on the big stage against Ali, this game provides the 2011 Tide team an opportunity to prove its mettle against the best of the best.

Like Ali, I believe LSU is more talented. Like Frazier, I think Alabama is tougher and hungrier.

There may not be a rematch (Ali would come back and defeat Frazier twice), but I’m sticking to the original script.

Frazier over Ali … Alabama over LSU.

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