Joe Frazier: 10 Things to Remember During His 10-Count Tonight
Here are 10 things to reflect upon when they give Smokin' Joe Frazier his memorial 10-count before Manny Pacquiao faces Juan Manuel Marquez tonight.
I also want to add that Smokin' Joe Frazier was a legend to us all. I've been very favorably impressed by the coverage that Frazier has been receiving this week. I always viewed him as an underappreciated American legend who was the first person to ever be my favorite fighter, but it's great to see that his passing affected so many people throughout the sporting world.
Even Larry Merchant was impressed with the amount of respect awarded to Frazier.
But even so, a lot of the greatest things about the man are getting lost in the shuffle. Here are 10 great reasons to remember this ring legend fondly.
He Beat Ali the First Time
Often lost in the discussions of the "Fight of the Century" and the Frazier-Ali rivalry is that Frazier won the first fight by unanimous decision, and he knocked down Ali in the process of handing "The Greatest" the first defeat of his career.
For all the grandstanding and hatred that Ali had tried to build, Ali couldn't stand up to Frazier's extraordinary locomotive-style attack and his treacherous left hook. Frazier deserved to win that fight, and I'm glad he did.
He Was Nicer Than Ali
During the Vietnam War, after refusing to be drafted, Muhammad Ali was out of boxing for nearly three years.
Once, when Ali was nearly bankrupt and having trouble paying a dinner bill in Philadelphia, Smokin' Joe (then the heavyweight world champion) heard news of it and invited Ali into his limousine. Joe reportedly gave Ali $1000 and Ali was very grateful in the limousine.
But as soon as Ali stepped out of the limousine, he acted like a madman to hype a future fight. He yelled obscenities at Frazier and acted like they hated each other. Ali had to be "restrained" by his supporters, and Frazier was incredibly confused by Ali's two-faced behavior after Smokin' Joe had done such a generous thing for Ali.
He Helped Get Ali Reinstated
Also during that limousine ride, Frazier mentioned to Ali that he would do whatever he could to help the former champ get reinstated in professional boxing after Ali was blacklisted from the sport for his anti-war actions.
Again, one of the gracious acts of Frazier that went underappreciated, especially by the self-acclaimed "Greatest."
He Never Backed Down from an Opponent or a Fight
After their first fight, Frazier may never have needed to face Ali again, but he chose to do so, twice. The second fight (the least famous one in the series) didn't go so well for him, and the third one was the legendary Thrilla in Manilla that Frazier narrowly lost after his corner retired him prior to the 15th round.
Make no mistake about it, though, Frazier would have gotten up and fought that final round, and occasional anecdotes say that Ali was about ready to call it quits too.
And against George Foreman, Joe Frazier got up off the canvas seven times despite being clearly outclassed by "Big" George.
The man never backed down from any fight, which is what earned him so much respect from boxing observers.
He Did Wonders for Boxing in Philadelphia
Joe Frazier, Benny Briscoe, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Bernard Hopkins. These are just some of the legendary boxing names to have come out of Philadelphia in the past 50 years.
Before them there were Tommy Loughran, Joey Giardello and Lew Tendler.
But nobody epitomized Philadelphia-area boxing like Joe Frazier, and he kept a gym in the area until his death this past week. Joe Frazier, though born in Beaufort, South Carolina, was an adopted son of Philly, and some say he was even instrumental in helping establish Philadelphia as the hometown of the fictional "Rocky Balboa."
If Sylvester Stallone deserves a statue in Philly, so too does Smokin' Joe Frazier.
He Was a Subject of Racial Attacks from Muhammad Ali
One of the great conundrums in boxing history is how Muhammad Ali came to represent the "black power" movement and Frazier somehow became the symbol for the white establishment.
Ali was the son of a middle-class family in Kentucky, and his parents were educators. Frazier was the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina.
Yet somehow Ali managed to stand for the "black separatist" movement while making fun of Frazier in racially-tinged terms. He said Frazier had a "flat nose" and "big ears" and made fun of him as a "gorilla." While none were explicitly racist terms, it was hard not to see the undertones of what Ali was saying.
The fact that Ali could get away with throwing racist insults at Frazier and still manage to paint him as the "white man's fighter" is one of the great quandaries in the history of this great sport.
He Was Underappreciated for Most of His Life
When Cassius Clay won Olympic gold in the light heavyweight division in 1960, he came home to a hero's welcome and was a highly-touted professional from the get-go.
Joe Frazier won Olympic gold as a heavyweight in 1960, but arrived home injured and penniless, and with very little fanfare. He had to work in a meat-packing shop until a group of financial backers paid $250 each for a share of his career so that Frazier could afford to fight full time.
HBO commentator Larry Merchant was one of the backers, and he sold his share a few years later for $2,000, but regretted this when the same share were going for $14,000 just a bit after that.
He Was in Some Ways a Real Rocky Balboa
Chuck Wepner deserves credit for inspiring Sylvester Stallone to write the "Rocky" movies, but there are a lot of similarities to Joe Frazier too.
A lower-middle class Philadelphia-raised fighter, undersized for his division but making up for it with extraordinary toughness. Both he and Balboa worked in a meatpacking factory, and became heavyweight champion of the world by beating a loud-mouthed, showy African-American fighter as part of a legendary rivalry.
And Joe Frazier also participated in some of the Rocky movies.
He Was Undersized and Under-Equipped To Be a Professional Heavyweight
Joe Frazier was only 5'11" and was much shorter than most of his opponents, including Ali (6'3") and Foreman (6'4"). He didn't have particularly long arms either.
In fact, he was the same height and had the same arm length as light heavyweight world champion Joe Calzaghe, who recently retired undefeated, but could never have made it in today's heavyweight division.
Another thing that set Joe apart from Ali was that he wasn't much of a marketer—just a good, old-fashioned rough-and-ready fighter. He was patriotic and loyal, and didn't understand the social implications of what he had gotten involved in. He didn't understand why people were so culturally caught up in his rivalry with Ali, and in some ways, that harmed him in his career.
He Devoted His Life to Boxing, and Will Be Missed Dearly by Everyone
Joe Frazier made something of his life because of boxing, and he spent the rest of his life giving back to the sport.
He ran a gym in Philadelphia. His children Marvis and Jacqui both became fairly well-regarded professional boxers, with Jacqui becoming a women's champion.
He never stopped giving back to the sport of boxing, and he was the first person I ever considered to be my favorite fighter. He was pure fight. He pushed Ali—the self-proclaimed "Greatest"— to announce that he had never felt as close to death as he did in his third fight with Frazier.
Smokin' Joe Frazier was a legend of the sport, and will be dearly missed. Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and Bernard Hopkins will all be in attendance at his funeral on Monday.
Emotions will be running high upon his memorial 10-count tonight. Rest in peace, and God bless you, Joe Frazier. I think I speak for all boxing fans when I say that we love you, and we will miss you dearly.