The notion of a Great White Hope had become so convoluted by tonight that two former opponents, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, were rooting for Duane Bobick to beat Ken Norton in Madison Square Garden.
Ali "prayed" for Bobick to win because he knew more people would pay to see him fight the heavyweight from Bowlus, Minn., for the championship than would want to see Norton a fourth time.
Frazier also figured to benefit financially from a Bobick victory, because his Smoking Joe, Inc., owns Bobick's contract. His association with Bobick caused a wrench in Frazier's relations with Norton.
Frazier and Norton were so friendly from the days when Norton was his sparring partner that Frazier never would agree to fight Norton for money. But for the past week, Frazier has been saying to Norton about his 12-rounder with Bobick, "I wish you bad luck." And Norton has said, "I understand."
Norton remained a 2-1 favorite over Bobick. He weighed in at 222 3/4 to Bobick's 215 1/2 on Tuesday. Norton is spotting BObick, 26, at least five years. Norton's birth date has been in dispute, some saying he is as old as 34. He says 31.
Larry Middleton of Baltimore, stopped by Norton in the 10th round and decisioned by Bobick in 10, nevertheless favored Bobick to win.