As someone who chronicled Muhammad Ali’s career once he established his Deer Lake training camp — and that era included some of his notable fights in his post-exile period — the second and third Frazier fights, the Foreman fight and the Norton fights — I interviewed Joe Frazier several times.
The man was a true gentleman, truly an amiable guy. I even shared a few drinks with Joe and his entourage one night at the Riveredge. I always felt sorry for Joe, who despite his victory in the epic The Fight with Muhammad Ali in their transcendent 1971 match, always was lost in the shadow of Ali’s incandescent ego.
And now Joe has passed on, cut down by liver cancer at age 67. Another sign that nobody is immortal. If death can KO a warrior like Joe Frazier, nobody can dominate death.
Frazier may be recalled by some as merely being the B-side to Ali, but Joe was nobody’s flip side. He was a great fighter in his own right and Ali needed someone like Joe to tango with in their trilogy for the ages.
Smokin’ Joe was the perfect Philly fighter with his big heart, action style, indomitable spirit and barbaric left hook that could stop an elephant in his tracks. He moved in with the snarl of a wolf, his teeth seeming to show through his mouthpiece. But he was a small heavyweight, making him no match for George Foreman’s big guns in their two fights. Styles make fights, and while Foreman bounced Frazier around like a little rubber ball, Frazier took Ali to hell and back — especially in their Thilla in Manila classic.
I’ll never forget Norman Mailer’s description of Frazier.
“Frazier was the human equivalent of a war machine,” Mailer wrote. “He had tremendous firepower. He had a great left hook, a left hook frightening to watch even when it missed, for it seemed to whistle; he had a powerful right. He could knock a man out with either hand — not all fighters can, not even very good fighters.”
Let’s all honor Smokin’ Joe with a silent 10-count.
May he rest in peace.