Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Remembering Smokin Joe

What do you call the person who defeated the greatest?

Joe Frazier faced Muhammad Ali in the fight of the century March 8th 1971. On that night with the entire world watching Joe Frazier rose to the occasion. For 15 rounds Smokin Joe out worked, out hustled and out gutted Ali. The final round was punctuated with a thunderous left hook that sent Ali crashing to the canvas. Minutes later Joe Frazier was announced the unanimous winner. Ali may have been the greatest, but on that night in Madison Square Garden Joe Frazier was the better man and proved that he was the undisputed champion of the world.

You cannot be a boxing fan and not appreciate Joe Frazier. Frazier was not the biggest puncher or the most gifted boxer. Smokin Joe vanquished his opposition by shear force of will. He moved forwards constantly throwing punches "smokin" while daring his opponent to return fire.

Frazier's losses demonstrated his courage and determination as much as his victories.

The first fight with George Foreman is remembered partially for Howard Cosell iconic call "down goes Frazier". (a call that I have enjoyed impersonating over the years). What has to be remembered is not just the knock downs but the fact that Frazier kept popping back up. Facing one of the hardest punchers in the sports history Joe Frazier refused to back down.

The Thrilla in Manila has to be seen to be believed. In their third bout Ali and Frazier battled with an intensity that would have had you believing that the looser and his family would be fed to a pride of lions. Going into the 15th round Frazier was ready to continue the battle even though he was virtually blind. It took the heroic actions of Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch to stop the fight and avoid tragedy that evening.

Joe Frazier may not have been the greatest fighter or the greatest showman. But, you can make the argument he had the greatest amount of heart, will and determination and in some ways maybe that is even more impressive.