Raiders at Chiefs: Ali vs. Frazier II

Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs with the ball in front of Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Frank Zombo (51) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs with the ball in front of Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Frank Zombo (51) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders versus the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL’s version of Ali vs. Frazier.

The cards set for this week’s Thursday Night Football contest rival a setup by Boxing promoter Don King. The 10-2 Oakland Raiders head to Kansas City to face the 9-3 Chiefs, in a chilly showdown. The duel is reminiscent of the heavyweight division of boxing from 1971-1975; Oakland being Muhammad Ali, Kansas City being Joe Frazier.

The red-hot Raiders kicked off the season 4-1, marching through New Orleans, Tennessee and Baltimore for road wins. Something was different about this team, and it was evident as early as Week 1. Jack Del Rio’s ballsy two-point conversion call to defeat the Saints set the tempo for the entire year. Kansas City got off to a slower start, going 2-2, battling injuries to star players Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston.

While the Chiefs flew under the radar, Oakland became the talk of the town for the first time in years. Derek Carr’s name rolled off the tongues of the media and NFL insiders, praising his poise in multiple 4th quarter comebacks. Marquette King went viral, showcasing his dance moves after every great punt. Oakland was finally living up to the hype, harping on the potential of Carr and All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack.

The October 16 showdown at the Oakland Coliseum against the Chiefs would be an early test to solidify the Raiders as legitimate contenders. If Oakland won, it would prove that the great start wasn’t a fluke. After all, there were plenty of games still to be played — it could still fall apart.

It mirrored that historic matchup between Ali and Frazier on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. The fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship — all the marbles. Billed as the “Fight Of The Century”, Ali and Frazier sure didn’t disappoint. But like the old biblical tale of David and Goliath, the big man took a fall. A left hook from Frazier sent Ali crashing in the 15th round, shocking the world. Frazier would go on to win that fight by unanimous decision, forcing Ali to reevaluate and recover.

The same thing happened to the Raiders, except the punch in the mouth came in the first quarter. Oakland fired out the gate, as Carr connected with receiver Andre Holmes for a early touchdown. Then, a bomb to receiver Michael Crabtree was picked off by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters just minutes later. Oakland never recovered from the kidney punch, losing the lead and ultimately the game after being battered on the ropes for 15 rounds.

Ali went into a full tyrant following the loss, stringing off 10 consecutive wins against formidable opponents. One of those opponents was Ken Norton Sr., the father of Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The senior Norton would go on to defeat Ali the first time, but Ali won the rematch, before defeating Rudi Lubbers to setup Ali vs. Frazier II.

The Raiders have strung together six consecutive wins, the franchise’s longest streak since 2000. Along the way they beat the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, both Super Bowl 50 participants.

Joe Frazier defended his title briefly, defeating Terry Daniels and Ron Stander before being demolished by George Foreman. For the sake of this piece, the New England Patriots will serve as Foreman. You’d be hard-pressed to find a three-letter sentence more prominent in sports than Howard Cosell’s call of the upset.

"“Down Goes Frazier!” Cosell exclaimed, as Foreman pummeled the champ, knocking him down six times."

Kansas City suffered defeat to the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-17 in Week 11. While Frazier lost the belts, the Chiefs lost first place in the AFC West. They recovered immediately, defeating the defending champion Denver Broncos 30-27 in overtime. Sunday, the Chiefs upset the Atlanta Falcons 29-28.

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And here we are, Week 14, a fight for the division and respect.

A matchup at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with weather reports predicting temperatures in the teens. Carr is a top contender for Most Valuable Player. Mack is in contention for Defensive Player of the Year. Del Rio is in Coach of the Year arguments. But if Oakland loses, it may all be to no avail.

The gripes against Carr have been that he falters in pressure situations and important games. Against the Texans, Broncos and Panthers, Carr didn’t look bad, but he wasn’t great. A convincing win against Kansas City could silence the critics once and for all.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has long been praised for his offensive genius. A quarterback coach on the 1997 Green Bay Packers staff, he already has a Super Bowl ring. But not as a head coach. In fact he’s just 11-11 in the postseason. Reid has just as much at stake this season as the Raiders, looking to finally go all the way.

The second matchup between Ali and Frazier was a brutal one, billed as “Super Fight II”.

On January 28, 1974, Ali and Frazier slugged for 12 rounds, with Ali getting redemption. The victor by unanimous decision, Ali retained the marginal NABF heavyweight title. But it wasn’t just about the belt, but the satisfaction of triumph.

Ali would go on to defeat Foreman, in the “Rumble In The Jungle” just 9 months later. The win would return the belts to Ali that he relinquished three years prior. It also reestablished Ali as the best of the best, the undisputed champ.

A win for Oakland over the Chiefs won’t give them anything but possibly a playoff bye week. But it will prove that they are ready to take on anyone — in this case, the New England Patriots. The history and importance of that matchup is another story for another time, too far ahead to think about.

For right now, the Raiders must worry about what’s in front of them, and that’s the Chiefs.

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