Hard to believe, but Thursday marks the 10th anniversary of the professional boxing debut of Laila Ali, who was just 21 when she followed in her daddy Muhammad Ali's footsteps and whacked out a Denny's waitress named April Fowler in one round in Verona, N.Y. Guess you could call it a Grand Slam Special.
A day or so later, I was looking for a note and quote for inclusion in this column when I telephoned Joe Frazier's daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, to ask what she thought of the progeny of her father's archrival taking up the family trade. Frazier-Lyde, who played college basketball at American University and was a pretty fair athlete in her own right, considered the matter for a few moments and replied, "I could kick her butt."
Just like that, my seemingly innocent query begot the second-generation of boxing's most renowned blood feud. Frazier-Lyde began training for her own ring career and, on Feb. 6, 2000, she turned pro with a one-round stoppage of Teela Reese in Scranton.
These natural antagonists began gravitating toward one another until, on June 8, 2001, Laila and Jacqui got it on in a surprisingly competitive bout in Verona that illustrated, if nothing else, that both women had inherited their fathers' combative genes and dislike of one another. Laila won an eight-round majority decision, but "Sister Smoke" -- now a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge -- went after "She Bee Stingin' " as if it were the Thrilla in Manila II.
Several boxing writers from around the country, assigned by their newspapers to cover the celebrity daughter duke-out, grumbled before the opening bell about how I had indirectly caused them to be dispatched to central New York on a night when they'd rather have been doing something else. But, after the last punch had been thrown, even the skeptics walked away believing they'd seen something entertaining and worthwhile.
Laila (24-0, 21 KOs) and Jacqui (13-1, 9 KOs), each now retired from boxing, reportedly earned $250,000 apiece for their night's work. Their matchup gave women's boxing an unprecedented jolt of publicity, and it should be noted that female fisticuffs has been added as an Olympic sport for 2012 in London.
Maybe I've asked another question that had a more far-reaching effect, but right now I can't think of one.
THE SONS ALSO RISE
Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde aren't the only children of Hall of Fame fighters to fixate on reigniting a family feud.
When Marvin Hagler Jr., 33, learned that Ray Leonard Jr., 36, had appeared on one of promoter Damon Feldman's Celebrity Boxing Federation cards, it was like an ember of a lingering grudge being fanned into a raging fire. See, Marvin Jr. has spent the last 22 years steadfast in the belief that his father, undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, was shafted in losing a majority decision to Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987, in Las Vegas.
"I contacted Ray (Jr.) to see how he felt about this whole celebrity boxing thing," said the younger Hagler, who lives in Atlanta. "After we spoke, I knew I wanted to get involved myself.
"What I really want is for me to fight Ray. I think that's something that would create a lot of interest.
"To be honest, I wouldn't be doing this if Ray weren't doing it, too. I want to fight Ray. It's been a dream of mine, one of those wild things that you think about. Now I have an opportunity to make that dream a reality. I think this was destined to happen."
Ray Jr. made his celebrity boxing debut for Feldman on July 24, outpointing Joe Parkinson. Marvin Jr. laces up the gloves for the first time on Saturday, when he takes on Billy Link at the Marple Sports Arena in Broomall.
If all goes according to plan, Ray Jr. and Marvin Jr. will square off on Feb. 27. Feldman said he is trying to line up the legendary Thomas Hearns, who shared the ring with both of their famous fathers, as the referee.
OUT OF AFRICA
Tanzania-born, West Philly-based junior featherweight Rogers Mtagwa isn't much of a technician in the ring. He's a crude brawler with a decent punch who has been known to simply outlast more-skilled but less-determined fighters.
That said, Mtagwa (26-12-2, 18 KOs) is facing the stiffest test of his 12-year pro career when he tries to dethrone Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez (26-0, 24 KOs), the WBO 122-pound titlist, on Oct. 10 in a pay-per-view bout at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Mtagwa is being paid more than three times his previous high purse for the likely privilege of being tuned up by Lopez, who can box and slug with equal aplomb. But, hey, all it takes is one well-placed shot for the longest of long shots to hit the lottery.
ENNIS THE MENACE
Greg Robinson's Power Productions is staging a 10th anniversary show on Oct. 16 at the Blue Horizon with North Philadelphia's Derek "Pooh" Ennis (18-2-1, 12 KOs) taking on Eromosele Albert (22-3-1, 10 KOs), from Miami by way of his native Nigeria, for the vacant USBA junior middleweight championship in the 12-round main event.
The second annual Briscoe Awards Ceremony is Oct. 12 at the Veteran Boxers Association Ring One hall at 2733 East Clearfield Street in Port Richmond. Bernard Hopkins will receive a statue, in the likeness of Philly middleweight legend Bennie Briscoe, as 2008's Philadelphia Fighter of the Year, as will super middleweights Gee Culmer and Jameel Wilson for having participated in that year's local Fight of the Year, an eight-round, majority decision won by Cullmer.