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Smokin’ Joe Frazier's Legacy Will Only Get Better with Time

The sport of boxing died a little on Monday Night.  It lost some of its dignity. Some of its class hit the canvas and some of its honor left ringside. The golden era of the heavyweight fighter continues to fade as Smokin’ Joe Frazier succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 67.  His last fight was 30 years ago but his heyday is still fresh in the minds of all those who love the sweet science and his legacy lives on forever.

Joe Frazier was destined to have his named sketched in the stone of heavyweight boxing royalty.  His 1964 gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics was a pre-cursor to future fame, fortune and controversy. Boxing will never see another duo in the ring or trilogy of fights like those of Frazier and arch enemy Muhammad Ali.

Fight one, rightfully called “Fight of the Century”, had it every angle needed for the iconic event it became.  Both Frazier and Ali were undefeated champions. Frazier holding the actual title, while Ali was coming off his suspension, for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army for the Vietnam War.  Ali was the Muslim, militant, outspoken black man, most of America was afraid of. Frazier was looked upon as the compliant, shy black man who kept his mouth shut and didn’t cause trouble, the kind the establishment accepted. 

Because of his demeanor, Ali ridiculed him and embarrassed him publicly. Publicity stunt or not, the adjectives of “Uncle Tom” and “Gorilla”, were insults Frazier never got over long after their fight days were done.  But it was Frazier that used Ali’s words as fuel and won what many to see is the biggest fight of all-time.  Ali-Frazier I at Madison Square Garden on March 8th, 1971.  The brawl was as big then, as any Super Bowl is now.  The world stopped, watched and listened as Frazier knocked down Ali in the 15th round and handed the former Casius Clay his first professional defeat.  The establishment won that night in New York and Smokin’ Joe had let his fist do the talking.

By the time they met a second time, also in New York City, Frazier was no longer the champion.  He had been knocked out by George Forman in Kingston, Jamaica.  The famous, “Down goes Frazier!” Down goes Frazier!” Down goes Frazier!” fight, called by the late Howard Cossell. This time on January 28th in 1974 a regional belt was on the line and Ali won a 12 round decision evening the dual at 1-1. But Smokin’ Joe re-grouped winning his next two fights, setting up the famous “Thriller in Manila”. 

This time, Ali was the champion again, knocking out Foreman in the also famous, “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire.  So October 1st, 1975, Ali-Frazier III took place in a balmy Araneta Coliseum is suburban Manila.  While their first meeting was the biggest boxing match of all-time, the third showdown is considered the greatest fight of all time.  Another head to head, punch for punch battle that no man deserved to lose.  But for Frazier, he would end up losing two of three to Ali as his trainer Eddie Futch, refused to let him leave the corner for the 15th and final round.  Frazier’s eyes were so swollen from withstanding Ali’s blows that he couldn’t see.  Afterwards both men ended up in local hospitals.

Smokin’ Joe lost much more than just a fight that night in the Philippines. He would always end up being the guy that gave “The Greatest” all he could handle but was still not the greatest. In the golden era of heavyweight champion fighters, Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and so on, Frazier gets a mention but his 32-4 and 1 record with 27 knockouts, gets ko’d by Ali’s accomplishment’s, words and showmanship. Not to mention he lost two of the three fights.  While some might say Frazier beat Muhammad Ali three times including Frazier, he still handled defeat with class and dignity.

Once boxing was over, he became a different type of entertainer as a singer.  He eventually opened up his own gym in Philadelphia and trained fighters himself including son Marvis. Joe Frazier was liked by so many, when word spread of his Liver sickness, former fans volunteered to give up their own livers for Smokin’ Joe.  But time ran out on the southpaw who stood tall that night in front of the world at Madison Square Garden in 1971. That night he found his place in boxing history, shut up the biggest mouth in sports at the time and did it all without saying a word.

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