Joe’s Aggressive Style Created Rich Legacy
Joe Frazier was beaten just four times in one of the great careers in the history of boxing. He went down in defeat in those four bouts to only two men, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, twice each.
He was valiant and a man of honor and courage. When the all-time best boxers are ranked however, he never makes the top 10. There are boxers who pound-for-pound were not better than Smokin’ Joe but they were able to dominate their eras for longer periods and thus they are rated higher.
The reality of the situation is that Frazier was a victim of fate. He just happened to have a glowing career that was overlapped by Ali. That was an obstacle that none of the other excellent heavyweights through the years would have been able to overcome.
You can name them. If Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano would have had the misfortunate to compete at the height of their careers during the time of Muhammad Ali, they also would have certainly been upstaged.
To Frazier’s credit, in my view, he fared better against Ali than any of the other great heavyweights would have. It’s simple. Styles make for great matchups. Frazier with his buzz saw, perpetual motion manner in the ring, proved to be quite difficult for Ali in two of their three contests.
Johnson was a smaller, slower version of Ali (or a younger Cassius Clay as was his birth name). He would have done no better against Ali than Floyd Patterson did in two humiliating defeats.
Jack Dempsey, who was before Johnson’s time, was even smaller and would have been no match to the self-proclaimed and later widely acknowledged “greatest of all time.”
Joe Louis shuffled trying to get in range for his devastating left hook. Ali would have at the very least, frustrated him tremendously. Louis in my view would have done no better than Sonny Liston who was stopped by Clay in 1964 for the first of three title victories.
Marciano had the heavy punches. Nevertheless, he would not have been a good match for Ali. Marciano was ferocious, but he bled easily. Ali would have had an easy time with Marciano, I feel.
Joe Frazier was another story.
The famous statement made by Ali after the final of their trilogy was: “It was like death.
Although he was unfortunate to emerge as a fistic force in the same era as Ali, the three fights they had, defined Frazier like nothing else that happened in 37 ring battles (32-4-1). Foreman had a style that Frazier, being much smaller, could not solve.
With Ali, it was different.
Perhaps because of the critical remarks Ali sent Frazier’s way often, the man from Philadelphia was always sky high when they faced each other. He bore up under the jeers from his nemesis better than any other before him. In the ring, he matched Ali over 41 rounds almost blow for blow.
In their first bout on March 8, 1971, he captured the so-called ‘Fight of the Century’ when he knocked Ali down on the way to a 15-round decision. They met again in 1974 over 12 rounds and Ali was the clear winner.
Then came the “Thriller in Manila “ of 1975. Arguably, a better battle than the one in 1971 was contested by the two warriors. In the end, after a serious of bruising rounds, trainer Eddie Futch became concerned about the terrific pounding Frazier took in the 13th and particularly 14th round. He didn’t allow his fighter to go out for the 15th.
Ali later paid Frazier an even better compliment than the “like death’ remark.
He said, with a sly smile, “he’s the greatest fighter of all time, next to me.”
If you take Ali out of his life, Frazier would be ranked right up there with Johnson, Dempsey, Louis and Marciano, definitely.
Here in The Bahamas Frazier always had his share of fans who pulled mightily for him, especially when he and Ali met. There are those like my friends Ira Smith and Bert Perry who actually saw Frazier as the better fighter.
He wasn’t better by any stretch of the imagination. However, he was surely one of the true greats.
I close with this tribute from Paul Bevans.
“I was fortunate to call him friend. I met this legend in the late 1980s while working with the Bahamas Tourist Office in Philadelphia. He referred to me as “Bahamas.”
“Joe did a lot to rehabilitate the young men in the Philadelphia-South Jersey area. Many of these men came straight out of prison to Joe, seeking shelter at Frazier’s Broad Street Gym. Joe had room and board set up there. He and his son Marvis would teach them the sport of boxing and he would also secure jobs for them.
“I have very fond memories of this great boxing legend like the weekend, he invited me to Scranton to attend a fight with him and Marvis. It was the debut of one of his young fighters. The following morning, at breakfast, he introduced me to another legend, Jose Torres (former world light heavyweight champion). One Sunday morning he called me: ‘Bahamas, you had breakfast yet? Come over. ‘
“When I got there he asked: ‘How many boiled eggs you want?’ He was a comedian. We had boiled eggs, wheat toast and tea. As I looked at all of his historic photos and memorabilia, I was amazed. Joe Frazier, even though he was a celebrity, was very humble. It was truly a favor (for me) to have access to such a sports legend. After hearing of his passing, I could only reminisce as I looked at the autographed boxing gloves and the personal photographs he had blessed me with, one with him training for the “Thriller In Manila.”
”What a man!”
May the soul of Smokin’ Joe Frazier forever rest in peace.
(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at [email protected]).