This past week, the news started to break that legendary World Champion Heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier has been placed in a hospice, diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. In a world where even average athletes are talking about their sport legacies, in the case of Joe Frazier you are talking about an athlete whose legacy transcends just boxing.
Joe Frazier is a world wide icon, and he will be missed.
Joe Frazier started his boxing career in 1965 in the fighting city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He went on to carve a magnificent career, including a series of fights against Muhammad Ali and George Foreman that would capture the attention of the entire world. He last fought in December of 1981, and retired with a record 34 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw.
I am going to try to put this into some sort of perspective. Boxing fanatics love to talk, and a favorite topic of discussion is the ‘GOAT’. Yep, who is the ‘greatest of all time’.
Muhammad Ali might be the ‘GOAT’. In March of 1971, Frazier faced an undefeated Ali (neither had lost a fight yet) and he walked out of Madison Square Garden with a fifteen round unanimous decision, and the WBA and WBC heavyweight Titles. In retrospect people call this fight ‘The Fight of the Century’ and it is safe to say that the world was watching.
In January of 1974, the two warriors returned to MSG, and Ali pulled off a unanimous decision after 12 more rounds.
In October of 1975, Ali and Frazier met for the third time, in another of the most famous events of the 20th century. The location was the Philippines, and this was the famous ‘Thrilla in Manila’. Famously, Frazier’s corner prevented Joe from coming out for the final round, so this was a stop after 14 rounds. Famously, Frazier wanted to continue.
I once read a great piece by well respected boxing writer Frank Lotierzo (from tss.tv – good ole’ Sweet Science) analyzing these bouts. After all, the two men battled 41 complete rounds. What Lotierzo found was that at a maximum, two rounds seperated the two men in their rivalry.
I mention this because part of Joe Frazier’s legacy will always be as the foil to Muhammad Ali. But the proof is there that during the Golden Age of Heavyweight boxing, Joe Frazier was the best fighter in the 1971 and 1972 era, and his subsequent losses to Ali changed the balance towards Ali.
So Muhammad Ali will get called the ‘GOAT’. He owes that to Joe Frazier, who pushed him to every limit of human endurance. After one of their fights, Muhammad Ali said “I have never been that close to death’.
Frazier will be remembered also as a smaller heavyweight, but his rate of activity and ability to swarm are generally considered among the best in the history of the sport. He was an undisputed heavyweight champion, and the boxing world certainly sits with hopes and prayers for Joe Frazier, who will always be seen as a champion. Frazier was always a dedicated family man, and it was Ali that bought the worst out in this gentleman. Let’s hope the whole world can remember this man’s contribution to sport and to 20th century society.
Now here is something we can all hope for, also an idea originating with author Frank Lotierzo. The city of Philadelphia needs to fast track a statue for the city’s most famous boxer. It is a shame that Rocky, a make believe character has a statue and not a real champion. The City of Philadelphia needs to get this done while Joe Frazier is still with us.
Thanks for the memories, Smokin’ Joe.