08 November 2011

Goodnight, champ.

At 205 lbs., Joe Frazier was barely a "heavyweight," but he was big enough to lay Muhammad Ali — undefeated and in his prime — on the canvas with his devastating left hook.

Many boxing cognocenti insist Frazier's victory over Ali was simply the greatest match of all time. No doubt, "The Fight of the Century" actually lived up to its hype.

Ali may have been a bigger man, but Mr. Frazier was the bigger man.

When Ali was banned from boxing for refusing the draft and had no source of income for himself and his young family, Smokin' Joe Frazier, heavyweight champion of the world, quietly slipped Ali money. That didn't stop Ali years later from taunting Frazier as a "gorilla" and "Uncle Tom." When it wasn't racist, their trash-talking was actually pretty funny.

Frazier to Ali: How's your wife and my kids?
Ali to Frazier: You calling my kids ugly?

Young Joe was a petty criminal who moved to Philadelphia, got a job in a slaughterhouse and trained using sides of beef as heavy bags and running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The only thing Frazier did better than throwing punches was taking them, and like Hollywood's mythological Rocky, you could hit Joe Frazier with a truck, and he'd just redouble his efforts. In homage, Stallone gave Frazier a cameo in Rocky. Before the big fight, the announcer invites Frazier into the ring and he waves to the adoring Philly audience, shakes each fighter's hands and asks Apollo Creed, "you been ducking me?" Heh.

Frazier was just gritty as hell. Due to an untreated injury as a child, his left arm lacked the full range of motion. He won Olympic Gold in '64 fighting with a broken thumb. It took him only five years to become world champion, which he accomplished although visually impaired by cataracts. Frazier summarized his style, "kill the body, the head will die."

In another decade, Smokin' Joe could have easily retained his belts, but fortune cursed him (and blessed boxing fans) with two contemporaries every bit his equal. Ultimately, Frazier, Foreman and Ali became Boxing's Greatest Triumvirate, overshadowing even other luminaries like Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Leon Spinks and Jerry Quarry, all of whom made the 1970s the heavyweight class' Golden Age.

With Joe Frazier's passing, the sweet science is a little less sweet.

1 chimed in:

J9 said...

Crusty - thank-you for posting this tribute. I watched boxing back then, and up until Tyson, when it became far less an art than a barely contained street fight.