Joe Frazier was anything but fearsome in his first fight in 5 1/2 years tonight, but he managed to hang on, belly jiggling, through 10 rounds of heavyweight slugging that left him with his first career draw.
Battling a taller, immaculately trim Floyd (Jumbo) Cummings before 6,500 fans at the International Amphitheatre, Frazier threw the left hook that once awed his opponents, but all Cummings did was laugh.
He laughed in the fifth round when the 229-pound ex-champion connected squarely with the left hook. Cummings, a tough customer who spent 12 years in prison on a murder charge, rocked back on his heels after the blow, grinned, rolled his eyes and mocked Frazier.
Two rounds later Frazier connected three times with his old knockout punch. Cummings never flinched. It was clear that more was lost than time since Frazier last entered the ring.
The decision was slightly in Cummings' favor. Scoring on the 10-point must system, Judge Collins Brown had it 46-46; referee Nate Morgan had it 46-45 in favor of Cummings, but Judge Harold Maravitz called it 47-47.
Both fighters said they felt cheated. Cummings, who was unmarked, said, "I had Joe Frazier in the eighth. I had him in the ninth and the tenth. I was hitting him at will. Yes, I feel cheated. A whole lot.
"I was confident all the way. I was disappointed and hurt at the decision. Even Joe was disappointed. He knows he was defeated."
For his part, Frazier said, "I'd be a little happier if I got the decision, with all the low blows and holding he (Cummings) was doing. I thought I won it, yeah." But if the scoring were done on visible damage, Frazier would have been the clear loser. He sported bruises, a cut mouth and a small mouse under his left eye.
Nonetheless, the ex-champ did not disgrace himself, as many of his longtime admirers had secretly feared he might in this long-awaited comeback bid. "I took some good shots and returned some good ones at him," said Frazier. "Now it's back to the old drawing board."
Frazier said he intends to continue on the comeback trail, but first he will attend to son Marvis' budding heavyweight career. Marvis, who was in Frazier's corner as his chief second tonight, has a fight Dec. 10 in Atlantic City. Joe Frazier said he'll train Marvis until the younger Frazier needs a break, then Marvis will train him for another go-round "in five or six months."
The draw decision was at first greeted by boos from the fans, who already had endured a night of pitiful preliminaries. In fact, observers at ringside agreed generally that the fight was close, although most gave the nod to Cummings. As it turned out, the boos subsided quickly.
Frazier's fight plan had been to "breathe all over Jumbo," sticking close and never permitting the taller, muscle-bound Cummings to take aim on him. Frazier followed that plan through the first seven rounds, trading blows inside. Cummings held often and Frazier, clumsier than he once was, had a hard time breaking free.
The fifth was clearly Frazier's round, as he connected with the two good left hooks and pursued Cummings with fervor. The crowd was delighted and cheered the ex-champion, who held the world heavyweight title from 1970-73, with cries of "Joe, Joe, Joe" between rounds.
But in the sixth round Frazier couldn't keep it up, and the two big heavyweights wound up toe to toe toward the end of the round. Cummings shoved Frazier against the ropes and the weighty Frazier couldn't break free. In the end, Frazier had to heave the taller Cummings off him, gracelessly.
In the seventh Frazier came charging out and landed one left hook that sent sweat flying from Cummings' brow. Seconds later he caught Cummings square with another punch, and a minute or so later another left by Frazier connected. But no damage was evident.