A Tribute to Joe Frazier
By Sina Latif
Three heavyweight legends recently shared birthdays in close proximity, those men being Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier.
As I have previously written articles reflecting on the hall of fame careers of Ali and Foreman, as a passionate fan of 1970’s heavyweight boxing, I thought it would only be fitting to also write a tribute to Frazier, who significantly contributed to the golden age of the blue-ribbon division.
‘Smokin Joe’ became one of the greatest boxers of all time and one of the biggest hitters in heavyweight history, with one of the meanest left hooks ever seen.
He became a gold medalist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and his subsequent professional career was legendary.
Frazier fought in an era of greats and became the first man to defeat ‘The Greatest’.
To be Muhammad Ali’s greatest rival and be the first man to defeat Ali in the ‘Fight of the Century’ one of the most significant fights of all time between two undefeated champions, had already put Frazier well on the way to cementing a great legacy.
He defeated a host of top contenders, including the likes of Oscar Bonavena, Eddie Machen and Doug Jones. He then stopped the tough Canadian George Chuvalo and old amateur rival Buster Mathis Sr.
After defeating Jerry Quarry and unifying the titles against Jimmy Ellis to become undisputed champion, then beating the brilliant light-heavyweight Bob Foster, came the showdown against Ali on March 8, 1971.
The two legendary heavyweights engaged in an all-time classic, with Frazier’s light-switch of a left hook flooring Ali in the 15th round, but amazingly it wasn’t enough to keep The Greatest on the canvas.
The pair entertained the world in three epic fights during their careers, concluding their great rivalry with the Thrilla in Manila in 1975, a bout considered by some boxing historians to be the sport’s greatest ever fight.
This was a savage brutal fight that earned respect for both fighters, and essentially ended both fighters’ careers. Neither were the same after that morning in the Philippines, both should probably have retired there and then.
Ali won after Frazier’s loving and wise trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to come out for the 15th and final round as his fighter was battered and near-blind. Such was the guts and bravery of Frazier, he would have fought until death in the ring that night.
Frazier had just put Ali through ‘the closest thing to dying I know of’ as stated by Ali later and Frazier is a man who got knocked down six times by a formidable, monster-punching Foreman and got up every single time.
Few fighters can be named in history that were as game as Smokin’ Joe.
Frazier may have lost two of the three fights in the defining trilogy of his career, but rather than diminish his legacy, this embellished it, as he earned boxing immortality after three classic battles with Ali.
After Ali had beaten Foreman, the third fight was meant to be the pinnacle of Ali’s career as he was expected to beat a supposed washed up Frazier convincingly.
The way the fight unravelled surprised everybody, including Ali, and Frazier could not have given a better account of himself that night against The Greatest heavyweight of all time.
The late great from Philadelphia was laid to rest in 2011, but legacy and memories never die.
Frazier achieved greatness with nothing but unconquerable will power and courage, although his formidable left hook also certainly helped matters, and he showed that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they possess unbreakable determination.
Mark Kram Jr., the author of Frazier’s biography titled “Smokin’ Joe”, also discussed Frazier’s loving and generous character outside of the boxing ring.
When Frazier once saw a legless man in a wheelchair trying to cross Broad Street with a can of kerosene in his lap, Kram said: “Joe pulled over, stopped in the middle of Broad Street, got out of the car in his fur coat and cowboy hat, picked the guy up and put him in his car and drove him home.”
Along with the numerous occasions Frazier would reportedly stop and help stranded motorists on the side of roads time and again, Smokin’ Joe left a real legacy not just in his boxing career, but as a human being.
As Ali was famously quoted: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Safe to say, Frazier’s service on Earth was fulfilled.
A fitting manner to conclude a tribute to a great man and fighter would be to quote Kram: “In a sport that many think is inhumane, Joe had a great humanity.”