“What it look like?” That was his way of saying hello, how are you. Yep, when former heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier entered his gym on North Broad St. in Philadelphia circa 1977-82, that’s how he greeted you. As the world now knows Joe passed away this week at the age of 67 from liver cancer. It’s a sad day for the boxing community. Joe Frazier was a real fighter and represented everything that made boxing at one time a great and first tier sport, which everyone reading this knows is not the case today.
Joe Frazier is without a doubt one of the top-10 greatest heavyweight champions in boxing history, and probably falls somewhere in between six and 10. As a fighter, Joe certainly left his mark in the annals of heavyweight history. He had the best left-hook in the history of the division, he was also one of the best body punchers, with both hands, that the division has ever seen. Frazier was also the most unrelenting and tireless swarmer, regardless of weight, that you could ever hope to see and he carried his power late into the fight and got stronger as the bout progressed.
When you hear about a fighter cutting off the ring, the conversation begins and ends with Frazier, just ask Muhammad Ali. Joe was hard to hit and was very underrated when the art of making an opponent miss and then making them pay is discussed. Frazier was at the head of the class when it came to slipping the jab while bobbing and weaving coming underneath his opponents’ punches with heavy handed hooks and body shots.
Over the next few weeks there will be countless eulogies written on Joe Frazier, however, there will be some incorrect assumptions made that must be refuted and addressed. And the one that will be mentioned most often is that Joe took a lot of physical punishment and abuse during his career. In fact, I’ve already read where one Philadelphia writer wrote that “as much punishment as Frazier dished out, he absorbed twice as much.” Are you kidding me! How could such a supposedly informed and respected writer state something so blatantly wrong?
The fact of the matter is, Joe Frazier endured significant punishment in perhaps only four or five of his 37 professional bouts, that’s it. Don’t take my word, go back and watch the fight films of his career. The reality is, Joe’s face was only marked up after his three fights against Muhammad Ali and two fights versus George Foreman. Think about it, how many fighters lasted that long with Frazier and were competitive with him?
How many fighters can say they fought Frazier on even terms for what would be considered a long or damaging fight? The answer is two, Oscar Bonavena and Muhammad Ali. Joe was virtually unmarked at the end of both fights with Bonavena, and after having a little trouble with him in his 11th pro bout, Joe handled Oscar in their rematch two years later winning no less than 11 of the 15 rounds the fight went. Oscar was a very strong and physical fighter, but he was no life taker and certainly didn’t beat Joe up or work him over. Sure, he got through cleanly on occasion, but not to the degree where anyone with clear vision would consider it sustained punishment, not at all.
Then there are the three fights with Muhammad Ali. The first and third were grueling and both fighters endured monumental punishment. But in reality, Muhammad probably endured more punishment than Joe did. As much as Ali hit Joe, Frazier was more slowed by the swelling around his eyes than the actual beating he sustained. In fact after Manila, Frazier managed to dance and party some at the post fight celebration while Ali sat there and then retired to his suite shortly afterward. And then there’s George Foreman, who was too big and had the perfect style and artillery to beat Joe. But, the first fight only lasted five minutes and Joe was down six times and didn’t suffer sustained punishment. In the rematch three years later, Joe stayed away from George for the first four rounds, then Foreman caught him in the fifth and the fight ended shortly thereafter.
The reality is Joe Frazier had four tough fights, Bonavena I & II and Ali I & III. The Foreman fights didn’t last long enough to be that damaging. Hearing Bob Arum say on ESPN SportsCenter that Joe came forward and took a lot of punishment before he unleashed his left hook is a joke. No greater authority than Muhammad Ali refutes Arum’s misstatement. It was after the third round of the “Fight Of The Century” that Ali went back to his corner and said to his trainer Angelo Dundee, “I thought this guy was supposed to be easy to hit, I can’t find the SOB.” Over the years Ali has often said that Joe Frazier was extremely hard to hit and no fighter made him miss more punches and combination’s than he did.
Hopefully, those who dispute this will go back and watch Joe’s bouts against Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George “Scrap Iron” Johnson, George Chuvalo, Buster Mathis, Manuel Ramos, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Foster, Ron Stander and Joe Bugner. Go back and watch those fights and see what Joe’s face looked like during the post fight interview. He’s virtually unmarked and not even breathing heavy.
Joe Frazier didn’t take punches like Arturo Gatti or Chuck Wepner when he fought like it has been said over the years. It’s a complete myth that he endured brutal punishment throughout his career. Joe was only out-gunned by Foreman, who is probably the strongest and most powerful heavyweight champ in history. Who wouldn’t be out-gunned by Foreman circa 1973-76? The only time Frazier left the ring and looked like the loser were after his bouts with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. This is not a matter of opinion, it’s fact, the films don’t lie.
Everything about Joe Frazier was understated except his left-hook. And let us never forget that Frazier won the biggest, most anticipated and comprehensively covered sporting event in history. Frazier-Ali I is no doubt the biggest sporting event of all time, and Frazier won it conclusively and refused to be denied. And if there was never a Joe Frazier, the legend of Muhammad Ali wouldn’t be as iconic and deep as it is today. Joe forced Ali to be great and dig down deeper and go to the well more so than any other fighter he faced, and Ali’s legend grew as a result of that.
Only one fighter can lay claim to winning the biggest fight of all time and take that to his grave forever, his name is “Smokin” Joe Frazier.