The Muhammad Ali movie Ali starring Will Smith rekindled some old PNG boxing memories for me. There will be sports nuts among our ASOPA membership - that straggly line of greybeards who tottered down Brisbane streets to board the riverboat three months ago - for whom this piece might spark some recall.
In the mid 1970s Muhammad Ali's greatest opponent Smokin’ Joe Frazier and entourage visited Port Moresby. They were in town for a few days and Joe went a few exhibition rounds at Sir Hubert Murray Stadium. His opponent that night was James ‘Digger’ Annand, a noted rugby league player for DCA.
The fit, blond Annand towered over the former world heavyweight champion who was of stocky build but with enormous thighs (he had to have specially tailored boxing shorts).
Digger poked out long, left leads as the ex-champ bobbed and weaved. Mercifully Joe didn't throw the famous left hook which sent Ali sprawling to the canvas in their first bout: the 1971 world championship at Madison Square Garden.
The Moresby stadium was packed on that balmy evening more than three decades ago. As the ring announcer, I recall a number of Papua New Guineans bursting from their grandstand seats, pushing through the security cordon and throwing a few choice words Frazier's way from ringside. "Joe Fraz-ee-yah. You not in the same class as Muhammad Ali,'' was the refrain before the interlopers were hustled away. Frazier might have been a great fighter, but for the PNG boxing fans, Ali was their man.