Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier.
Those were the words exclaimed by Howard Cosell during Smokin’ Joe’s fruitless challenge against George Foreman in 1973. Sad to say, those words apply today, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, as one of the most relentless pugilists of his or any era couldn’t beat the count. The opponent was liver cancer.
Joe Frazier was 67.
He went at it hammer and tong with the Greatest, the so called Greatest, Muhammad Ali, three times, and though Joe went 1-2, he was with Ali every step of the way, in New York in 1971 (that one was “The Fight”) and 1974, and in the Thrilla in Manilla in 1975.
Born in South Carolina in 1944, the youngest of 12 children, he will forevermore be intertwined with Ali, his stomping grounds of Philadelphia and the hellacious left hook which made many a man sip through a straw for weeks through a jaw wired shut. Frazier, who campaigned as a pro from 1965-1976 (with a single comeback fight coming in 1981), dropped out of school at 13, but didn’t let that deter him from becoming a master craftsman. His final record stands at 32-4-1.
In later years, fight fans were disturbed to know that he lived in a small apartment above his North Broad St. gym. Truth be told, while almost any boxing fan could appreciate Frazier’s bob, weave and blast style, his stubborn resolve to stalk his prey and make him pay, he wasn’t a cuddly creature who expertly cultivated a fanbase. He took Ali’s trash-talking to heart, and absorbed the blows of being called an Uncle Tom, and a gorilla, with less aplomb than he did the launches of the best and brightest heavyweights of the 60s and 70s. “Joe Frazier is too ugly to be champ,” Ali would say, and Frazier would seethe, and be unable to soothe himself, comprehend that Ali did what he did to build the fight.
His career wasn’t a lengthy one, but his legacy, as an athlete who was undersized in height but not heart, a fighter who’d be willing to eat two to get in postion to land one crackerjack launch, is immense. Rest in peace, Smokin’ Joe.