The world continues to pay tribute to the former heavyweight boxing champion, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who sadly passed away last week from liver cancer, aged 67.
Frazier’s exalted boxing career was inextricably linked to that of his great rival, and fellow heavyweight luminary, Muhammad Ali. Both born in the South during the Second World War, Frazier and Ali’s three epic duels were the making of their legends, providing one of sport’s greatest ever rivalries.
…their often bitter relationship.
Politics, culture, and a fearsome, almost deadly desire to win, were the hallmarks of their often bitter relationship. Although Ali takes the plaudits for his ring theatrics, Frazier too was a crowd pleaser. From the outset of his amateur career, he was renowned for his vicious left hook and ferocious attacking approach.
His incredible professional career was launched following the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. A late replacement, after failing to make it through trials, Frazier went on to win gold. His career took flight in the 1970s, spanning the golden decade of boxing, when the heavyweight division ruled the sporting world. His uncompromising attitude, despite his size, made him feared by many and his contribution to boxing cemented him as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
…the pinnacle of his career.
But it was his series of fights with Ali which proved the pinnacle of his career. The first, billed as ‘The Fight of the Century’ came in 1971 after Ali’s reinstatement to the sport after refusing to undertake military service in Vietnam. Animosity and hostility grew between the two when Ali titled Frazier an ‘Uncle Tom’, insinuating his representation of the middle class, white men. The fight lasted a gruelling 15 rounds. Frazier eventually gained the title on a points victory.
The eagerly awaited rematch with Ali came in 1974. Ali had alienated Frazier from the black community with a plethora of derogatory comments about him, inciting real hatred between the two. Frazier lost the rematch on points, setting up the third and final showdown, titled ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in the Philippines in 1975. Conducted in sweltering heat, Frazier was eventually withdrawn by his trainer before the 15th and final round, conceding defeat to Ali. The rumour was that Ali, too was ready to quit, further fueling Frazier’s anger at his trainer, Futch.
…won 32 of his 37 fights.
While he reached peaks of greatness in the ring Frazier’s life outside the cloth was less easy, struggling with a series of unsuccessful business deals and personal issues. Frazier’s legacy though, will always be a sporting one. The tale of a man who won 32 of his 37 fights. A man who beat arguably the greatest boxer of all time and who, in any other era, would have stood alone at the top. It seems fitting that his greatest adversary has been the first to lead the tributes to one of boxing’s great champions.
Images courtesy of Joe Frazier