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Bout to benefit Memphis' drug court

11/30/2006 - Boxing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It won't be the "Thrilla in Manila," but Mayor Willie Herenton promises a good show when he steps into the ring with former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.

The mayor, a 66-year-old former amateur boxer, and 62-year-old "Smokin' Joe" are fighting a three-round exhibition bout Thursday for charity.

More than 30 years removed from his legendary 1975 battle against Muhammad Ali in the Philippines, Frazier said his once deadly left hook isn't what it once was and he was unsure if he would try it on Herenton.

That is, as long as the mayor doesn't "have the butterfly in mind," Frazier said, referring to Ali's self-described style of "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

"I might get some flashbacks," Frazier said Wednesday night at a pre-fight party.

Frazier, who held the heavyweight title from 1968-73 and retired from boxing in 1976, runs a gym in Philadelphia and stages occasional exhibition bouts.

The exhibition at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis will raise money for the city's drug court, which offers rehabilitation services to drug abusers as an alternative to jail.

Herenton turned to boxing while growing up in poverty in Memphis and credits the sport with building the self-confidence that helped him become the city's first black mayor. He is in his fourth term.

The mayor, who helped bring the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight to Memphis in 2002, has been having fun promoting Thursday's match and talking about his accomplishments as an amateur boxing champion.

"If they can see me at this age, can they imagine what I was like in my teens? I was awesome," he said, laughing.

The bout may also show detractors that he's still a fighter.

"I know there are some people in Memphis who would like to see me carried out," he said with another big smile.