The thunderous bangers waged an inside bomb-fest with Stander looking to back off the champion with head and body shots. Meanwhile, Frazier winged hard upper cuts and left hooks at the iron chinned challenger.
49 years!!! Next year will be half a century!!! What? Can’t be! It is true what my Dad said, time does go faster as you get older.
Next year, 50-years will have passed from that night when boxing’s most prized event featured a local legend and one of the sport’s true Hall of Fame champions were squaring off in the unlikely location of Omaha, Nebraska.
Ron Stander, born in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but long residing in the Omaha area, was already a local boxing star for being just about as rugged as they came in a tough era in the heavyweight division. But, on May 25th, 1972, his local profile would go to a whole new level after squaring off with renowned champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
With a thick tussle of swept back hair, and 70’s-era sideburns, Stander could have been cast as an over-sized Elvis Presley or a bulked-up Robert Mitchum. But it wasn’t the big screen calling “The Bluffs Butcher”- it was the boxing ring.
Stander would turn pro in the summer of 1969 and fight for 13-years, accumulating a workman-like record of 37-21-3, with 28 KO’s. By 1972, with 25 fights in the bank (at 23-1-1), including a KO win over legendary puncher Ernie Shavers in his 10th fight, Stander would get the call that would change his life.
Philadelphia’s iron-tough, and undefeated, Joe Frazier had stopped champion Jimmy Ellis in February of 1970 to capture the WBC and WBA world heavyweight titles. In facing Stander, Joe was making his 4th defense of the title and it was seen as an easier (than previous) assignment having dispatched tough Texan Terry Daniels and legends Bob Foster and Muhammad Ali in his other title defences. However, as Frazier would learn, in a boxing ring, “easier” and “Ron Stander” seldom crossed paths.
For fans of local legend Stander, the best news was that the world heavyweight championship fight was to be contested at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska. Perhaps the biggest sporting event in this era was the heavyweight championship of the world – not just the most important event in boxing, but in all of sports. Normally, it would be fight towns like Frazier’s Philadelphia, or New York City, that would draw the location assignment for a heavyweight title fight. But, on this night, it was the Midwest city, sitting on the Missouri River, that would host boxing’s most exciting event.
There were never any secrets to Ron Stander’s strategy in the ring. The bell rang and he was coming after you - regardless of who you were. Joe Frazier, despite having a reputation as perhaps the toughest of tough guys in an incredibly rough era in the division, would be treated no differently.
Regardless of the outcome, the fight was everything that local fans had hoped for between the two bruising brawlers. Stander, did exactly as he had said he would before the fight and came right out at the champion. The thunderous bangers waged an inside bomb-fest with Stander looking to back off the champion with head and body shots. Meanwhile, Frazier winged hard upper cuts and left hooks at the iron chinned challenger. Stander kept coming until severe facial cuts forced the fight to be stopped after the 4th round by ringside doctor Jack Lewis giving Frazier the victory.
The outcome of the fight, in reality a longshot for Stander against such a legendary champion, was not what the local faithful had hoped for. However, the effort and attitude of the “The Bluffs Butcher” cemented his reputation as a local legend in boxing circles and gave fight fans a fantastic bout, in a great night of world heavyweight championship boxing, and memories to last a lifetime.
Joe Frazier – Joe would only fight 8 more bouts after the Stander fight to close out his legendary career. However, he certainly didn’t go out soft taking on one legendary champion after another including George Foreman (twice), Joe Bugner, Muhammad Ali (twice), Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis. While Frazier would go 3-4-1 in his last 8 bouts, his only losses were to Muhammad Ali and George Foreman – an incredible career in an extremely tough era of heavyweight boxing. Sadly, we said goodbye to “Smokin Joe” as he passed 10-years ago in 2011.
Ron Stander – Ron would fight 35 more times in his career including bouts with the likes of Gerrie Coetzee and Ken Norton and secure his reputation as the heavyweight king in the Omaha area. Ron, now age 76, as warm and friendly out of the ring, as he was boot-tough in it, still resides in Council Bluffs, Iowa with his wife Toddy.
Joe and Ron - thanks for the memories.