On Sunday, word spread across the Internet that legendary heavyweight Joe Frazier had died. As it turned out, he hadn’t. It was an echo of the moment in the “Thrilla in Manila” when Muhammad Ali said to Frazier, “They told me you was all washed up.” Answered Frazier: “They told you wrong, pretty boy.” Frazier wasn’t done Sunday. He was always a hard man to keep down.
On Monday, Frazier, sadly, finally succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 67.
He departs as as the winner of the “Fight of the Century,” when he handed Ali his first loss in 1971. He was one-half of one of the greatest boxing trilogies ever, Ali-Frazier, and arguably the greatest fight ever, the aforementioned “Thrilla.” He is a part of boxing lore and history in myriad ways besides. The pummeling he took at the fists of George Foreman produced the classic Howard Cosell call, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” He is the modern prototype for a pressure fighter; any time a boxer bobs and weaves to get on the inside against his opponent, pounds the body and takes two punches to deliver one, Frazier is the gold standard to which he is compared.
Frazier’s name will forever be tied to Ali’s, to his dismay. Frazier hated the man, and with good reason. Once friends, Ali took to haranguing Frazier in the ugliest possible way, calling him an “Uncle Tom,” a “gorilla,” and other racial taunts that Frazier didn’t deserve and that are often overlooked by those who prefer to remember Ali as a heroic figure. It didn’t matter that after their third fight, Ali gave Frazier respect, saying things like, “If God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me.” Frazier burned with a hatred of Ali that stuck with him as recently as 2009, when in an HBO documentary he could be heard gloating on his phone’s voicemail claiming responsibility for Ali’s present poor health. Frazier risked his own death trying to come out for the 15th round that night in Manila, and long held it against trainer Eddie Futch for forbidding him from taking further damage.
I can think of nothing more that fitting, under the circumstances, than to leave this remembrance of Frazier with a clip that would make him smile, if he was still here today: The 15th round of his first bout with Ali, when he decked his old rival. Rest in peace, “Smokin’ Joe.” Fighters don’t come more true.