My Thoughts On Joe Frazier

I hated Joe Frazier.

It was 1971, and I knew that Muhammad Ali was going to be fighting Joe Frazier. Ali was one of my idols; he’s still one of my idols. I was 11 years old, had just moved to a new place 3 months earlier and was struggling to get used to it, and one of my heroes was going to prove that he’d been wronged by so many people years earlier. I didn’t know as much about that, but I did know that Ali was my guy; he was my dad’s guy as well.

Back then I had a couple of transistor radios, and I listened to the play-by-play of the fight from New York City. What would happen is that you’d listen to a lot of talk, then after the round was over someone would tell you what happened and give you his opinion on who won the round. Early on it was all Ali, and I was ecstatic. Then things seemed to have changed, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then I heard the news – Frazier knocks Ali down in the 15th and wins the decision.

I was bitter. A year later they put the fight on ABC and I thought Ali had won, I hated Frazier that much. But it was what it was, and I knew Ali would get him back.

However, there was this little matter of Frazier – Foreman, and as I saw that fith I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Foreman actually looked like he lifted Frazier off the ground; it was frightening. That day I felt sorry for Frazier, scared for Ali because I knew he’d be getting his shot against Foreman, and I was confused.

Then Ali and Frazier fought again, and it was a tough battle that saw Ali win. Then Ali goes and beats Foreman and it was time for the Thrilla in Manila. My support for Ali couldn’t be questioned; the “Gorilla”, as Ali had named Frazier, had to go down. I was lucky to have HBO in 1976 and we got to watch the fight live. What an epic battle, ranked as one of the top fights in history, and Ali won in 14 after Frazier’s corner refused to let him come out for the last round.

At the end of that fight I was elated for Ali but had a new appreciation for Joe Frazier. This man, who never weighed more than 208 pounds for any of his fights, had shown a lot of dignity, even in his 4 losses, two to Ali and two to Foreman. He wasn’t a bad man; not at all. Back then, there were all these social issues that always surrounded Ali, and Frazier got caught up in them. I saw him as a decent man, and couldn’t hate him anymore.

Over the years after he finally retired I saw a guy fighting to find some dignity because of the taunting that Ali had put him through. I learned of all the help Frazier gave Ali and how he always felt betrayed by Ali. He never could figure out that without Ali their fights might not have gotten as much interest and money as they did. I felt bad for that but I also recognized how hurtful it had to be for a black man to have another black man relate him to a gorilla; I wouldn’t have liked that either.

Joe Frazier passed away a couple of days ago of liver cancer. Like the dignified guy he always had been, word didn’t get out until he was in hospice, and he wasn’t there long. People said they’d give him their liver, but of course it doesn’t work that way. Just like that Frazier was gone at age 67. Muhammad Ali said this: “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.”

Joe Frazier earned a lot more respect in retirement than he did during his boxing career, and in retrospect that’s a shame. But that’s what the 70’s were like. And now we’re dealing with the 2010’s. And we’ve lost a good guy; best to you Joe.

16 thoughts on “My Thoughts On Joe Frazier”

  1. The golden age of boxing! You’ve summarized it beautifully. I always loved Ali, but hated the trash-talking and blatant disrespect. To me, it diminished the sport.

    Being from Philly, I took home-town pride in knowing that I passed Joe Frazier’s Gym almost every day.

    I stopped watching boxing matches after these three giants faded into the sunset – until Mike Tyson came in. But in that case, it was nothing more than craning my neck to see if any charred bodies were in the two-car pileup that he made of his opponents.



    1. Mitch, I don’t watch boxing as much these days either, but back then it just seemed like the most exciting period as it pertained to boxing. And me being a pro wrestling fan, you know that it was probably the trash talking that helped me love Ali so much; it ain’t trash talking if you back it up. Still, you never really know how someone else will take it, which is probably why I rarely talk trash (even during our chess matches; now with Sire… lol) these days. But back then, I talked all sorts of trash when playing sports; backed it up as well.

      But Joe did have this sense of dignity that I came to admire. It’s just too bad he vacillated between forgiving and then condemning Ali; oh well…

  2. I loved boxing because of Ali. I hate boxing because of Ali. Ali and Frazier are inextricably linked–and neither can stand the fact. Frazier never forgave Ali for the hateful treatment he received from Ali in the press–the racial slurs and challenging his intellect. Ali has been embarrassed by his behavior toward Frazier and ought to have retired after Manila–avoiding the terrible damage that was to come.

    The whole story is just too painful to even think about–and I’m just a fan. I can’t imagine how the people around both the fighters can deal with it.

    1. Well Phil, won’t be any people around Frazier anymore. I didn’t get to hating boxing so much until Tyson started fading out of the picture and it seemed like the different boxing entities lost their way. I mean, now there are two brothers that own all the belts, yet we’ll never see a unification bout because they won’t fight each other. And the other divisions for the most part are dull; that’s just a shame. And yes, Ali really should have retired after Manila, but how many boxers retire when they should?

  3. Love this post. Love boxing, or at least I used to back in the day. I liked Frazier, but maybe only saw the last Frazier/Ali fight. If I remember correctly, I think I saw him on David Letterman a few times in the 80s. Always a great interview too.

    1. Yes he was Brian, but he was never all that glib. He tried being a professional singer but that didn’t work either. Frazier only fought 37 times, most of those in the 60’s, which probably explains why you didn’t see all that many (since I’m assuming you’re kind of young).

  4. Nice write up Mitch! It’s been a sad few days with the loss of Smokin’ Joe and Heavy D. I wish I was around when Frazier was actively boxing. I would have loved to see him fight live!

    1. He had a great left hook Tory, and a very good chin except for when he fought George Foreman. He wasn’t pretty, just durable, so he wasn’t exciting, but workmanlike. He got the job done more times than not, so he deserves kudos for that.

  5. I’ve saw it in the newspaper about 2 days ago and I was shocked, because this had happened so fast. One of the greatest athletes of the century. I have just watched his matched on video as those fights had happened before the time am born.

  6. That is so sad for Frasier but happy for him for he already achieved eternal happiness with our Creator…rest in peace to you Frazier….

  7. Sometimes I watch boxing and certainly I heard about him. It’s a pity that such talented people leave us. R.I.P., Frazier

  8. I didn’t know at all about him because such fights were before I was born. But then I look for info in I-net and I am sure that he was a great athlete!

  9. I had much the same reactions to the Ali, Frazier, and Foreman fights. I didn’t think Foreman was ready for Frazier and was as surprised as you were when he handled him so easily. I remember feeling bad for Frazier, something I never thought I’d feel. And I wondered how Ali was ever going to handle Foreman. I lost a little money on the first Ali-Frazier fight, and the subsequent series of fights taught me to never bet on boxing — it’s too unpredictable. Joe was a good man, a hard-working family guy. He couldn’t understand why people loved Ali so much. It’s a sad ending for him.

    You did a good job of explaining a dramatic time in boxing, Mitch. I don’t think anything since has approached it.

    1. Thanks Charles. Actually, the only thing that came close was the Hagler – Hearns – Leonard cycle in the 80’s, but after that it’s been on the decline some. These days Floyd Mayweather Jr talks a lot of smack, but it’s really mean spirited and the conditions he puts on people that have to fight him are ridiculous. I miss the old days for sure.

  10. I was a shocked young Ali fan at the time but I would have to admit that left hook was one of the sweetest punches that I have ever witnessed. RIP Joe.

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