“Smokin” Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, died at the age of 67 last night after losing a battle with liver cancer.
Frazier grew up the son of a South Carolina sharecropper and won a gold medal as a member of the 1964 Olympic team. Over his career, Joe won 32 fights, 27 by knockout with four losses and one draw; he won his first 11 fights by knock out.
Frazier made six title defenses over the course of his career and on March 8, 1971 fought the great Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden which was touted as the “Fight of the Century.”
In the 15th round, Frazier landed a vicious left that knocked Ali down for a four-count. All three judges gave the fight to Frazier and the frenemy relationship between the two boxing legends was born.
The first fight at the Garden was the classic fight between the two because up until meeting, Ali had never lost a fight.
Over the course of several years the two would meet a couple more times with Ali being crowned the victor. But it was their third and final fight where their relationship changed forever.
They met in Quezon City, a metropolitan area of Manila, Philippines, on October 1, 1975. It was dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila.”
Before the fight, Ali was relentless towards Frazier, mocking him at every cost calling him a Gorilla, black, ugly and every other name imaginable trying his best to taunt him.
This is where I felt Ali wasn’t the sportsman we all thought he was. To go to such an extent to belittle a man wasn’t what being a sportsman was about.
Ali’s brash bravado and superior verbal skills was no match for any opponent that stepped inside the ring with him, you lost already before you threw your first punch. But with Frazier it was different; it was a culture war every time these two men fought.
The most popular Ali, who rightfully opposed the Vietnam War, exhibited black pride with his afro and stood as the central figure to which kids looked up to, he was a mouthpiece of a generation.
The flip side of that culture coin was Frazier, he was quiet and reserved, not at all boisterous like his counterpart and the only talking he ever did was with his powerful left hook that would crush the jaws of any opponent who unluckily put it in its path.
Two men who stood for two different things in the time when America was divided racially, socially and economically, the lines were drawn, you were either a Frazier man or you rooted for Ali. If I was alive back then, I would have probably been a Frazier guy, for the simple fact he was a sportsman and a gentleman.
Not to say that Ali wasn’t, but there always has to be the cool guy and the square guy and it’s a shame that Frazier had to play the latter.