NEW YORK, NY – One of the greatest boxers in the long and storied history of that sport died on Monday, his name was Joe Frazier. For someone that was lucky enough to come of age in the heavyweight heyday of the 1970s, Joe Frazier was a constant presence, as well as a bobbing and weaving force of nature. He knew only one way and that was straight ahead. All. The. Time.
He was boxing’s version of a shark. Despite all of the punishment he took in the ring, it’s actually hard to believe that he’s gone at the age of 67, felled by liver cancer. If you didn’t think cancer was a tough opponent before this, you certainly do now. (Just ask our own Cheesy Bruin who’s gone toe-to-toe with the “Big C” twice and come out the other end bloodied but unbowed.) Anyway, rather than write another obit for The Champ, I thought I’d instead touch on just a few items regarding his legacy.
The Pride of Philadelphia? Joe Frazier may have been born in South Carolina but, make no mistake about it, the guy was a Philly fighter through and through. In fact, it’s no stretch to say that he was the toughest guy who ever called that city home. It’s interesting then that when it came time for the City of Brotherly Love to honor a heavyweight champion with a statue they chose not Joe Frazier but fictional Italian-American movie pugilist Rocky Balboa. Absolutely mind boggling. If you want to hear someone really put this and other Philly atrocities under the microscope, we suggest you Google comedian Bill Burr with the word Philadelphia.
Heart of a Lion. Frazier may not have fought the ridiculous roster of legitimate heavyweights that Muhammad Ali did, but he still went up against some very good ones and never backed down from anyone. Of his four career losses, two came at the hands of Ali in their epic trilogy. The other two? George Foreman. His plodding, straight-ahead fighting style was not conducive to going the distance but he did just that in his first two fights with Ali and damn near went the distance in the insane finale (more on that in a minute). He had heart and stamina that’s rarely seen today… in anyone. If Floyd Mayweather had one quarter of Frazier’s ticker, he’d be busy training for Manny Pacquiao and saving boxing. As for stamina, just look at what passes for it now. Justin Bieber allegedly fathered a child in what the baby mama is calling a 30-second bathroom tryst. 30 seconds? C’mon Biebs! Even I can go for 45… sometimes even a whole minute. Wait a sec, I don’t want to get off-topic but, while we’re on the subject of bathroom sex, I was watching the Steelers/Ravens the other night and couldn’t help wondering: When Ben Roethlisberger complains to an official that his receiver just got raped, should that be taken as expert testimony? OK, back to it.
The Thrilla in Manila. Frazier’s final fight with Ali is arguably the greatest bout in the history of two guys putting up their dukes (that’s a lot of fights). I can remember the lead-up to the fight but not so much all of the racist “gorilla” and “Uncle Tom” crap Frazier had to take from Ali. I do recall that the New York Daily News ran a cool Ali/Frazier cartoon iron-on in their Sunday paper, which just about everyone on my block put on a t-shirt. I couldn’t do it, as I felt the cartoon depicted the butterfly-winged Ali getting the better of Smokin’ Joe. Yeah, I was no Ali fan. Anyway, the fight did not disappoint. The two gladiators went toe-to-toe for 14 rounds before Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch literally had to cut Joe’s gloves off to prevent him from going out, all but blind, for the final round. Ali would later add, “If Joe didn’t quit first I was going to.” or something to that effect. For one of the best pieces of boxing writing you’ll ever read, check out SI’s Mark Kram’s account of the fight here. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005750/index.htm
So, there you have it, Joe Frazier is gone now but he won’t be forgotten. He was an Olympic Gold Medalist. He was a heavyweight boxing superstar in an era when the division was filled with heavy hitters such as Shavers, Lyle, Foreman, and Norton. He was the seething bull to Ali’s mouthy matador. But most of all, he was a champ. He’ll be missed.
Here’s hoping our own sexy ring card girl Lori Levine is back tomorrow.