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.