Everyone’s heard of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, even those who never watched a boxing match. The Philly fighter was known for the left hook that floored the then-unbeaten Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971, and the unexpected right that almost took “The Greatest” out again in 1974 in Manila.
Joe Frazier being awarded by the Daily News in 2011/WikiCommons
But the toughest battle of Frazier’s life was the one he lost to liver cancer Nov. 7, 2011 at the age of 67. No amount of training could have prepared him for this brief but powerful contest that ended under hospice’s care in a Center City apartment.
The 1964 Gold medalist started his professional career (37-4, 27 KOs) in 1965, defeating Woody Goss by TKO. He went on to become World Champion after beating Jimmy Ellis in 1970. Ellis held the belt after Ali was stripped of it and suspended from boxing for refusing to go to war in Vietnam.
Frazier was one of the many people who petitioned President Nixon to allow Ali back into the ring, leading to the “Fight of the Century” between the rivals. Frazier would go on to lose his crown to George Foreman in 1973. He retired after losing to Foreman a second time in 1976, returning to the ring for an unsuccessful brief comeback in 1981.
Upon the announcement of Frazier’s death, Foreman Tweeted, Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend. Ali issued a statement, "I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration" and was known to have said “If God ever calls me to a Holy War, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me.”
Manny Pacquio said “Boxing lost a great champion, and the sport lost a great ambassador.” Facebook pages for Frazier sprung up, seemingly overnight, and #JoeFrazier became a trending topic on Twitter. Floyd Mayweather Tweeted "RIP Smokin Joe. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Frazier family. We lost an all time great tonight.”
As is often the way with Greats, Frazier’s accomplishments are being rightfully jump-started in his death. There’s re-buzz of erecting a Philly statue in his honor and the film, “Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears,” just opened in Manhattan. No doubt his 1996 autobiography will see a revival.
Perhaps in death, people will see Frazier as the legend he was, and not just as Ali’s nemesis.