Farewell Smokin’ Joe
Date: November 8, 2011 / Posted by control
The sporting world has lost one of its true warriors with the passing of Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
The 67-year-old who, along with Muhammad Ali, staged three of boxing’s most epic bouts died of liver cancer.
Born of humble beginnings in South Carolina, before fighting out of Philadelphia, he first reached world prominence at the 1964 Olympics where he defeated German Hans Huber to win the gold medal. Unknown to many, he carried a broken thumb into the gold medal bout.
Shortly after his Tokyo triumph he turned professional under the guidance of trainer, Yancey ‘Yank’ Durham. Durham, who remained in Frazier’s corner as his chief trainer until his death in 1973, also managed the rising star. He brought together a group of local businessman and formed a management company, Cloverlay that allowed Frazier to train full-time.
By early 1970, Frazier remained undefeated in pro ranks with ring craft built around a devastating left-hook and a carefully crafted combination of bobbing, weaving and snorting but he would always be viewed as a brawler rather than a boxer. He looked every a champion in the ring, a menacing sight who never took a backward step.
In February 1970, he fought Jimmy Ellis at Madison Square Garden for the WBA world heavyweight title which had been laid vacant following Ali’s refusal to join the war in Vietnam.
After just one successful title defence, he was pitted against Ali in what was dubbed ‘The Fight of the Century’, the first time that two undefeated heavyweights fought for the world title.
Returning from a three-year lay-off, Ali (31-0) and Frazier (26-0) squared off in New York on 8 March 1971. It was a brutal encounter with Ali calling the shots in the opening rounds before Frazier began seizing on a tiring Ali with a combination of thundering body shots and left hooks to the head.
Frazier sent Ali to the canvas in the 15th round before being declared a unanimous points winner.
It was the first of a trilogy that entranced the sporting world with many people who previously never had an interest in boxing fascinated by the amazing courage and spirit of two true champions.
In his 30th pro fight Frazier lost his title to the power punching barrage of George Foreman in 1973.
His second encounter with Ali took place in January 1974 at the Garden with both men aiming to get a shot at Foreman.The bout lacked the intensity of their first encounter with both men at times preferring to clinch then box.Ali won a clear 12-round points decision.
By the time the pair met for the last time, Ali was again the world champion having knocked out Foreman in the famed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire in October 1974. Their last stoush is perhaps the most famous in the sport’s history.
The ‘Thrilla in Manila’ on 1 October 1975 was pure brutality. In the lead-up Ali had repeatedly called Frazier a gorilla and had painted him as an Uncle Tom, one of the most despised epithets you could give a proud black man. Ali’s words stung Frazier to the core and resulted in him despising Ali for decades.
Inside the ring in the Quezon City, Ali dominated the fight through the early rounds, pounding Frazier to the point that he said to him, “You stupid chump, you” in the fourth round as Frazier refused to drop. Like their first encounter, Ali’s early output took its toll in the hot and humid conditions with Frazier on the counter-attack. By the end of the tenth, it was Frazier’s turn to tire with Ali slowly turning the tables.
By the 14th round Frazier was virtually fighting with one eye, his right rendered closed by Ali’s ferocity. Having seen the incredible suffering Frazier had endured his corner threw in the towel before the 15th round, despite Frazier’s protestations. Unbeknownst to Frazier, Ali had returned to his corner after the 14th and instructed his trainer, Angelo Dundee to cut off his gloves.
After the bout, he said, “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight anymore.”
Ali also opined after the fight that is was the closest he had ever been to death in the ring.
At the time the fight ended, trainer Eddie Futch said to Frazier, “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today.” That proved to be an accurate truism, but for the rest of his life Frazier always felt that he lived in the shadow of Ali, a fact that irked him no end. A fourth career loss, to Foreman in June 1976, saw Frazier retire.
He will always be remembered as the ultimate brawler – a man of enormous heart and a part of the most famous pairing in the history of his sport.