- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

Before you go out into the wild today and fight the battle of Black Friday, here’s a great suggestion for the sports fan on your list, particularly one as ancient as I am.

There is a remarkable piece of American history that just came out on DVD that has been largely forgotten for 35 years. It was an event that went so far beyond simply being a sports contest and I’m not sure it was even that.

Then again, most events involving Muhammad Ali went beyond the sports pages, and this one was no different.

On Jan. 20, 1970, “SuperFight” took place, pitting Ali against the great undefeated former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano.

Except it wasn’t a real fight. It was a staged, choreographed bout pitting the former champions in the ring, acting out the details created by an NCR 315 computer that simulated what might have happened if Ali and Marciano had actually faced each other in a real fight.

The filmed event was shown that night on closed circuit TV in 1,500 theaters across the country. After that, all copies were destroyed, except for one sent to the U.S. Copyright Office. Since then, the event has been seen only once, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the early 1970s. And it hasn’t been seen since — until now.

Author and boxing historian Mike DeLisa (author of the book “Cinderella Man” and a historical consultant on the film) has produced, directed and written the DVD called, “The SuperFight: Marciano vs. Ali” (Mackinac Media), and it is a marvelous look at this remarkable pairing that took place under the strangest of circumstances in the most turbulent of times. The DVD features fight footage mixed in with interviews with such boxing historians as DeLisa, Hank Kaplan (who helped provide the computer with information on both fighters) and Bert Sugar, offering their historical perspective on the meaning of this event and its participants.

Marciano was the legendary heavyweight who had retired at the age of 33 with a 49-0 record. He had come to symbolize the ultimate great white hope, and was often used by both blacks and whites for each other’s polarizing debates, though Marciano did nothing to create this polarization except fight — and then not fight anymore.

Ali, on the other hand, was the most polarizing figure in sports and maybe even in America at the time. After shocking the world and stopping Sonny Liston in 1964, he remained the undefeated champion until he was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army.

He had not fought for three years and was hurting for money when an opportunity for him to take part in this computer fight against Marciano. It came about like many things do in boxing — because of a lawsuit.

Murry Woroner was a Miami boxing promoter who had a radio series of fantasy boxing bouts between past champions, using a computer that was fed statistics about the fighters. Marciano was the winner of the series. Ali lost to Jim Jeffries, and he wasn’t pleased. He sued Woroner, who then made Ali an offer. If he would drop the lawsuit, Woroner would pay Ali $10,000 to take part in this simulated fight, agreeing to let the computer determine the outcome.

Kaplan, the technical director of the project, programmed the computer using only the matches from each fighter’s best five-year period. Kaplan listed every jab, hook, uppercut, hard hit, soft hit, hold and evasion — every move that made up every fight for both fighters. Each statistic was assigned a value. The calculations were fed into an NCR computer at the company’s headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, and out came a script for the fight.

They filmed 70 one-minute fighting segments, which were later spliced together into three-minute rounds, with crowd noise, announcing and the sound of landed punches dubbed in. The filming took place in a small gym on the north side of Miami Beach over a two-week period during the summer of 1969.

Only about 20 people were allowed inside the gym during the filming, which was kept as secret as possible. Angelo Dundee was there as Ali’s trainer. Ferdie Pacheco was the ring doctor. Chris Dundee, Angelo’s brother, was the referee. Both fighters agreed that the headshots were to be pulled, but body shots were fair game.

Marciano took the fight far more seriously than Ali did. When the plans were first discussed, Marciano was about 300 pounds and balding. When the fight took place, he had dropped down to about 240 pounds and was wearing a toupee, and for a 46-year-old man, looked pretty good in the ring.

The action — considering it was a 27-year-old with the fastest hands in the history of the division against a 46-year-old who had not fought since 1956 — was not bad. It was a heck of a lot better than some of the action that passes for heavyweight boxing today. There isn’t a John Ruiz fight that could come close to touching it.

There were several different endings shot, but the one that the computer picked was Marciano knocking Ali out in the 13th round. Now, that is a difficult outcome to believe. I can’t picture any scenario where the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Marciano could beat the 6-3, 210-pound Ali, who had never been knocked out and who probably would have sliced Marciano’s face up badly before they ever got close to the 13th round.

But the DVD does offer a new appreciation for Marciano and his greatness as a heavyweight champion. I’ve talked to several old, black trainers, some of whom have died, who spoke with deep admiration about Marciano’s heart, determination and ferocity. That comes across in the ring when the close-ups show Marciano digging into Ali’s body. It is easy to imagine Marciano in his prime doing serious damage to any fighter in any era in those sequences.

Marciano died before the film was released, killed in an Aug. 31 plane wreck a few weeks after filming was done. Ali was reinstated and returned to the ring against Jerry Quarry eight months after “SuperFight” hit the theaters. Six months later, Ali lost to someone who dug deep to the body like Marciano, Joe Frazier, in the “Fight of the Century.” This differed from “SuperFight,” when one of the ancestors of the laptop I am writing this on supposedly determined the greatest heavyweight of all time.

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