To those who grew up in the post-Tyson era, the name Joe Frazier is only a name, if that, but once like Mike Tyson, he was the baddest man on the planet, though unlike Tyson, for all the right reasons. Today, he is fighting his most feared opponent.
Some boxers have charisma, others let their fists do the talking. Unlike his arch-rival, the charismatic Muhammad Ali, Smokin' Joe was never a great talker, for him, actions always spoke louder than words. Last month, at the age of 67, he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver, and is currently residing in a Philadelphia hospice. A hospice is a place where people go to die, and the prognosis does not look good, but let's not write off Smokin' Joe just yet, he is a fighter after all.
Although he was a worthy world champion and the man who handed Muhammad Ali his first professional defeat, Smokin' Joe is best remembered by aficionados for four fights, three of which he lost. The first was his aforementioned victory over Ali - the self-proclaimed Greatest - the others were the rematch and the decider; the fourth was his crushing second round loss to an up and coming George Foreman.
Frazier's boxing career followed what has now become a well trodden path. He was entered for the Olympics where he won the gold medal in the heavyweight class, in those days fighting without headguards, but it nearly wasn't to be. He was beaten in the Olympic trials by Buster Mathis, but Mathis broke his thumb in training, so it was Joe who jetted off to the Land of the Rising Sun to the strains ofTokyo Melody.
After the Olympics, Frazier turned professional, and began his long trek towards the biggest prize in sport.
In February 1964, Cassius Clay - as he then was - shocked the world by knocking out the feared Sonny Liston. After winning the rematch, Muhammad Ali proved himself a true champion, travelling the world to take on all comers. It looked as though like Joe Louis before him he would be invincible, but Ali was knocked out by Uncle Sam due to his principled stand against the Vietnam War. Although this earned him much condemnation, including from many of his fellow blacks, few would argue with him today.
Having said that, his removal from the ring by the most contentious of technical knock outs meant that anyone who claimed the heavyweight crown would at best live in his shadow. Frazier won the title on February 16, 1970 by defeating Jimmy Ellis, and in March the following year, the Fight of the Century took place at Madison Square Garden when Smokin' Joe buttoned the Louiseville Lip with a 15 round decision including a knock down in the final round.
Whether or not Ali had been suffering from ring rust, Frazier had silenced the doubters, but no one could have foreseen what lay in store for him in January 1973 when he was utterly destroyed by George Foreman, suffering three knock downs in the opening round, then being knocked down twice in the second before the referee intervened.
After that, Smokin' Joe fought Smokeless Joe, Britain's Joe Bugner whose career is best remembered for his controversial points win over "Our 'Enery" for the British, European and Commonwealth Championships.
To be fair to Bugner, he did go the distance with Frazier, and with Muhammad Ali - twice, but he never set Britain alight, much less the world.
After the Bugner fight, Frazier fought Ali again, this time Ali won the Madison Square Garden contest on points. Then came Ali's sensational victory over George Foreman, after which he returned the compliment, and the rubber match was completed with "The Thriller In Manilla". Again, Ali won on points, retaining his WBA and WBC belts, after which Smokin' Joe fought George Foreman again, losing in the 5th this time. It would be nearly 5 years before his next and final fight, a 10 round draw with journeyman Floyd (Jumbo) Cummings.
Joe Frazier at a presentation in April 2011.
Frazier bought a gym in his hometown, Philadelphia, has made numerous TV appearances and invested in real estate.
In addition to his love-hate relationship with his arch-rival, Smokin' Joe had something in common with Ali, he was a soft touch, and although he has not fallen on hard times, his money has not been managed as efficiently as it could have been.
His son Marvis took up the sweet science but didn't have his father's talent. A premature title fight against one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Larry Holmes, ended in an ignomineous defeat, a fight with Mike Tyson, even more so.
Talking of Tyson, the two men have definite similarities. If it is true that styles make fights, one would have to prefer Ali over Tyson the same way one would Ali over Frazier, but Smokin' Joe against Iron Mike would be a coin flip, whoever connected first would have won.
Alas, that is all speculation, now Smokin' Joe is facing his most unrelenting opponent, the Big C. People are already lining up to pay tribute to him, but don't let's write his obituary just yet. Joe may be down, but the count hasn't even started.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com