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Smokin' Joe elevated to greatness by Ali rivalry

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Ben Dirs | 06:28 UK time, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Olympic gold-medallist. Undisputed world heavyweight champion. Twelve world-title fights. A 73% knockout record. Arguably the best left hook in history. All this with a gammy arm and while blind in one eye. You see, it can be done, outlining Joe Frazier's greatness without mentioning 'the other one'. Ah well, I very nearly managed it.

Truth was, and truth is, however much Frazier might have protested, Muhammad Ali illuminated Frazier's own greatness while also managing to be the bane of his life.

Great rivalries elevate the rivals involved to greater heights - John McEnroe opined that tennis was never as much fun again after Bjorn Borg retired - but when your rival is the most charismatic sportsman who ever lived, you are liable to forget the excitement you generated together, all that money you made and feel overshadowed, unappreciated and bitter instead.

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Joe Frazier - a career to remember


Towards the end of his life, Frazier's feelings towards Ali did soften ["I'd do anything he needed for me to help," Frazier said in an interview in 2009] but as recently as 2008 his answering machine bore the message: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, I done the job, he knows, look and see". Frazier revelled in the part he played in Ali's physical decline and, wherever he is now, is probably kicking himself for being the first of the two to die.

But if some of Frazier's remarks about his nemesis were in bad taste - when Ali lit the Olympic cauldron at the Atlanta Games in 1996, a deeply emotional moment for many, Frazier told a reporter he would have liked to throw him into the flames - they must be viewed through the prism of Ali's cruelty and malevolence.

Once upon a time, Frazier and Ali were buddies. When Ali was in the wilderness, his licence having been revoked because he refused to fight in Vietnam, Frazier lobbied President Nixon to issue a pardon and also lent money to Ali, who was despised by many in the United States and on his uppers.

Then, on the announcement of "The Fight of the Century" in 1971, Ali went on the turn. There are still those in the Ali camp who protest that their man calling Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and accusing him of working for the white man was nothing but a bit of fun. But for Frazier, who had indeed worked for the white man in the parched fields of South Carolina since the age of seven and whose privations far outweighed Ali's, this was deeply wounding rhetoric.

In his autobiography, Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee suggests his charge, in a fit of pique, made a calculated decision to lace his barbs with racial poison because Frazier was not rising to the fun taunts Ali usually dealt in. But when Ali cranked it up, Frazier turned his hatred inward and steeled himself for what was sure to be a brutal battle at Madison Square Garden.

Ali-Frazier I may have been packaged like a pretty gift from Bloomingdales - Burt Lancaster the 'colour commentator', Frank Sinatra taking snaps through the ropes, fans "dressed to the nines in full-length white mink coats," recalls Dundee, "and those were the men" - but once the dainty bows were pulled apart, guts and hearts came spilling out.

Across 15 savage rounds, Frazier outworked a now thicker, less mobile Ali, wobbling the former champion in the 11th and flooring him with a crackerjack left hook in the 15th before being awarded a lop-sided unanimous decision. As Ali's cheerleader, Bundini Brown, said afterwards, Frazier had "blown Ali's candles out".

However, while Ali's candles, like those magic ones you get on birthday cakes, fizzed back to life, Frazier was never the same fighter again. Almost two years later, he was down six times before being dethroned by George Foreman inside two rounds. The final knockdown, when Frazier's body stiffened as if jabbed with a cattle-prod and both legs left the canvas, has become synonymous with the barbarism of heavyweight boxing.

Joe Frazier hits Muhammad Ali with a left during the 15th round of their heavyweight title fight at New York's Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971

Frazier hits Muhammad Ali during the 15th round of their heavyweight title fight at New York's Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 . Photo: AP

But boxing is about styles, and while Frazier may not have looked much cop against a hard-hitting giant like Foreman - Frazier was pulped again in a rematch - "Smokin' Joe", once described as "a wild beast caught in a thicket", knew he had the measure of Ali, who was not as big as Foreman and nowhere near as concussive.

In addition, Ali, who labelled Frazier "The Gorilla" before their third match, the "Thrilla in Manila", believed his old foe was spent. Their second match, when Ali jabbed Frazier's head off for 12 one-sided rounds, convinced him of such. But rumours of Frazier's demise had been greatly exaggerated. Frazier, burning with indignation, proclaimed before the bout: "I don't want to knock him out in Manila, I want to take his heart out."

What followed were 14 of the most turbulent rounds in heavyweight history, action that bordered on the obscene. When Frazier was pulled out by his trainer Eddie Futch, his face resembled, in the words of Dundee, "an apple that had been halved and pieced back together off-centre". "It's over," said Futch, "no-one will forget what you did here today."

And so it came to pass. While Frazier beat Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis (all twice), George Chuvalo and Bob Foster in a career spanning 16 years, he will forever be defined by that victory over Ali in New York and even more so by that jaw-dropping demonstration of courage in a losing cause in Manila.

When I interviewed Frazier in 2006, he was disconsolate at and bemused by the parlous state of heavyweight boxing. "I don't see anyone who's going to bring back the glory days," he said. "Do you know who the heavyweight champion is?" But the ill winds that whistle through the current heavyweight division will also serve to fan Frazier's smokin' legacy into flames: a glorious fighter from a glorious era, how boxing could do with his like today.

Said Ali himself immediately after their third fight in Manila: "I have nothing bad to say about Joe Frazier. Without him I wouldn't be who I am and without me he couldn't be who he is. We've been a pretty good team for four or five years."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    great blog ben. These days, i cant be bothered to turn the telly on for the latest version on whichever over-hyped heavyweight world champion is on, how can we have so many 'world' champions. But smokin joe came from an era when most of the world stopped to watch a heavyweight world title fight. As you said, neither could have excelled without the other, its good they finally realised that before it was too late. RIP Joe Frazier

  • Comment number 2.

    This Thomas Hauser article; http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2005/sep/04/features.sport16 was published in the Observer Sport Monthly a few years ago and is a brilliant read, it covers a number of the things this blog touches on. A great piece of writing about a truly great fighter, sad day today.

  • Comment number 3.

    Don't for get Joe's courage in that 12th round in Manila. I have never seen a boxer take so much punishment and not even go down, never mind out. Great boxer in a great era.

    I always thought Ken Norton was the bigger bane of Ali and I still think Norton won all 3 bouts. As they say, styles make fights.

  • Comment number 4.

    Wonderful blog.

    All time great.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sad that he's gone but privileged at the fights and moments he gave us.
    One of the true greats, an elite of the elite.

    RIP Smokin' Joe, and thank you.

  • Comment number 6.

    The sad passing of a true giant of both the division and the sport. His left hook was a signature punch of the division. His death reminds us of the strength of the heavies then compared to now and as for the American Heavyweights they now live in his shadow.

  • Comment number 7.

    You've excelled yourself here - easily the best blog I've ever seen from you, which does wonderful justice to a childhood hero of mine. Frazier was somehow exalted to the ranks of the suffering saints by Ali's goonish taunts, but exacted his revenge in a way that St. Francis of Assisi might not have recognised.

    I am more affected by the death of a man I never met than I thought possible; a twinkling light of my formative years has guttered and gone out with horrible speed. A proper fighter and a proper man, it's hard to believe that we will see the like of Smokin' Joe Frazier again any time soon.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great Blog.
    I'm not afraid to say that I get more emotional about sporting heroes and achievements than anything else and today is no exception.

    I am fortunate enough to have lived through those glory days of boxing, with 3 generations of may family crowded around a black and white TV watching the excitement. Maybe losing those memories is making me emotional as well.

    A great fighter and a sad sad day...

  • Comment number 9.

    RIP Joe.

    Great man and a sad loss.

  • Comment number 10.

    Joe was an idol of mine when I was a kid, and I was so lucky to have met and chatted with him earlier this year. The first Ali fight was the perfect fight. Both men Olympic Gold medalists, unbeaten, in their prime, charasmatic, exciting, perfectly conditioned and pefectly matched. The fight couldn't possibly live up to the pre-hype.... but it certainly it. My all time favourite fight.

    Joe was a great fighter, in a great era of boxing. I feel really sad that he has passed away so suddenly.

    When I met him earlier this year he had clearly softened towards Ali, and referreed to him as Muhammad. Two such great men should not bear any malice towards each other. We wont see their likes again I reckon !!! RIP Joe.

  • Comment number 11.

    R.I.P Joe much too young to remeber any of your fights, but listening to boxers of today talking of you with such admiration shows me that you truly were a world class boxer.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good write up Ben

    i never got to see Joe fight live but have since watched his gruelling battles with Ali and have to rate him as one of the greatest, he puts todays HW boxers to shame, i wish we could have boxers like that today but im guessing it will never happen again, HW boxing is dead, much sadder that Joe is gone too tho, RIP ..

  • Comment number 13.

    I was lucky enough to meet the guy for 30-40 mins in '92. Unfortunately he came across as umm...a 'not very nice' bloke.

    That said; in the ring in his day....an absolute legend. How the HW division needs his kind today. :-(

  • Comment number 14.

    Fantastic blog! As someone who never lived in the era of Ali/Frazier and have only followed from interviews and films this gave me a great insight!

  • Comment number 15.

    Nice blog.

    Joe always came across to me as a guy who was deeply likeable but very sensitive to being liked. He had a defensive mechanism which questioned others motives and I'm sure the Ali taunting must have hurt especially from someone who tried to help and therefore must have respected.

    A fighter being world champion in a great era = great fighter.

  • Comment number 16.

    Now there was a fighter in an era where boxers were real fighters. Not like the namby pambys of so called boxers of todays era.

  • Comment number 17.

    Great blog Dan for a sad day and it has bought us olduns out to post.

    Joe you gave me so much pleasure as a teenager. The only man to get anywhere near 'the greatest' and match him, at his peak.

    With Ali, great fun pre fight but once both of you entered the ring, fireworks. For years I have missed what fighters like you have gave the sport.

    I really believe if you were from any other era, we would be forever wondering how you would have matched up to Ali because you were true class, thankfully we got to see two greats in the ring at the same time.

    RIP Smokin Joe.

  • Comment number 18.

    Smokin Joe Frazier. The name says it all!! Awesome boxer.

  • Comment number 19.

    I can't think of any heavyweight after your era who'd be fit to tie your bootlaces, including Tyson. Lennox Lewis perhaps...perhaps. Thanks for your everything. RIP.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am fortunate to have seen all three Ali-Frazier bouts and to have witness the courage and skills of these men throughout their careers. Remarkable, historic figures. Most people don't realize the first fight was a polarizing bout: Ali, returning from his "exile" represented the anti-war movement and the left; Frazier represented the political right and those favoring Nixon's Vietnam policies. When Ali made his "Uncle Tom" comments the hype went up another notch. Most who saw the fight thought it couldn't be topped. But it was with Ali-Frazier III in Manilla. I take a train once a week from DC to my NY office and pass the Joe Frazier Gym on the trip. It is a nondescript two-story building in downtown Philly. The building should be the location for a memorial to Smokin' Joe.

  • Comment number 21.

    Like most boxing fans I have my own Top 10 of boxers & Joe makes it easilly. As well as being world champ between 1970 -1973 he had the skill to be a champion in any era. Another of my boyhood heroes gone. A sad day indeed.

  • Comment number 22.

    Sitting with my dad watching proper boxers in the 60's and 70's....a memory that will never leave me. Smokin Joe RIP

  • Comment number 23.

    As i write this I have a lump in my throat and a tremulous bottom lip. I was lucky enough to have watched those fights as they happened. Smoking Joe fights with Ali were the ultimate in heavyweight championship boxing which have never been replicated.

    Joe Fraser was a warrior, who was not going to go out other than on his shield. He would have taken care of most heavyweights that I have seen through from his time in the 70's to today.

    I was at the fight in Jamaica when Foreman beat Joe and was amazed as anyone with what happened there, it just didn't add up. I can only rationalise that Joe had used his all in the first fight with Ali and had somehow become diminished.

    I could go on and on about this amazing boxer, however there is one last thing. I think the statue in Philadelphia of 'rocky' is blasphemous to the names of great fighters who have come out of the windy city of which Joe Frazer sits at the pinnacle. I can only hope that he is simlarly recognised in a more prominent and deserved position as a testament to reality over hollywood fiction.

  • Comment number 24.

    Ben....i would have to say one of your best blogs ever......thank you :) I once asked my dad if he could travel back in time and see 1 sporting event live what would it be? He choose the Manilla fight (he is Australian.
    I still remember my shock at his choice. there are so many choices and most Australians will go for some Olympic or cricket event. I laughed it off but years later as a grown man he sat me down and we watched it together.....i was stunned....what ever ones thoughts on boxing, that was an iconic moment in sport, it has and still does have a huge effect on many poeple...

  • Comment number 25.

    @ #17 I think you mean Ben :P

  • Comment number 26.

    what a champion boxer total legend R.I.P smokin joe you will be missed.

  • Comment number 27.

    I read BBC sports blogs with great interest but the vast majority (especially the football ones) are absolutely rubbish.

    Not so with Mr Ben Dirs - it's always a real pleasure to read your work and this one is no exception. Can you give Phil McNulty some tutoring please?

    Smokin Joe - Heavyweight Legend - RIP

  • Comment number 28.

    Sad news to darken an already dark and gloomy day.

    I'm too young to have ever had the opportunity to witness the great heavyweights of that generation but I can look back and make the comparisons necessary to believe that those who lived during Joe's era were blessed with some of the greatest boxing talents of all time - Joe was no exception.

    Rest in peace big man.

  • Comment number 29.

    I have just heard of the demise of Joe Frazier (Smoking Joe) whom I have a special adoration. I am Thomas Oh, the 'Match Maker' who was responsible for arranging the 3rd Ali-Frazier Fight in Manila. To me, it was about the greatest heavyweight fight in the world's boxing history! Only Ali and Joe could have carried it off and to know I was directly responsible to put through this fight, is a life time's memory. I got to know and understand Joe better over the period in Manila. I admired him for his fighting prowess. But out of the ring, he was such a nice and quiet person to talk to! Good bye Joe, you may be gone but shall always remain in the minds of those who had the opportunity to know you. God Bless

    Thomas Oh, Malaysia

  • Comment number 30.

    Lovely post by "first pie at Maine Road" (or similar). I too remember that era, listening to fights on the radio with my Dad (Welsh, great Howard Winstone fan) and also on TV... Ali, Our 'Enry, Smokin' Joe. Times that will never be repeated

  • Comment number 31.

    Ali v Frazer was one of my earliest sporting memories when sporting rivalry was at its fiercest. Although both made a lot of money from the fights you got the impression that they would have happily slugged it out for the title and title alone. An both would have walked to Manila for the contest if they had to. I am pleased that their hostility to each other cooled as the years went by... but the sheer fact that they genuinely did not like each other just added to the melting pot and the interest in the fight.

    All the posturing of today's fighters is half hearted and all about the purse. A sad way for a great fighter to go out. I know we will not see their type again in boxing.

  • Comment number 32.

    Ben - cracking piece of writing - nothing flowery and over the top (which some 'obituaries' can be), but then again, Joe Frazier and flowery don't go well together!
    I would wager a fair sum of money that if you put the great heavyweights up against a wall (Ali, Foreman, Bonavena, Ellis, Quarry, Norton, Foreman and Frazier - how those names trip off the tongue) most people would find a reason to dislike one or all of them.....except Joe Frazier. I cannot imagine anyone not 'liking' Joe Frazier. 5 foot 10 and change, all guts and determination...what's not to like.
    I believe it was Joe Louis who said when hearing of Marciano's passing - 'Someone stand over him and count....he'll get up!' Oh that you could Joe, but for now, sleep well - we miss ya!

  • Comment number 33.

    Slowly the legends of a great era of heavyweight boxing pass away. Look at the top fighters of that era Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Liston, Norton, Ellis, Bonavena and even our own Jo Bugner... really hard fighters who were so much better than the overweight blobs that inhabit most of the top 10 HW now. Does any one really think that outside of the K Brothers any of our now top 10 are fit to lace up the boots of the fighters I mentioned. Heck even the K Brothers would struggle to be competitive never mind beat most of the late 1960s and 1970s fighters I named (OK I admit WK v Jo Bugner has the potential to be incredibly dull but Jo at his best had the technical ability and work rate to really trouble the K brothers)

    Smoking Jo v WK - any bets on WK even making it to round 4?
    Smoking Jo v VK - the gorilla would completely outwork VK
    Smoking Jo v Haye - I am British but this would be brutal, any bets of which row of seats we would find David's teeth?

  • Comment number 34.

    I am in tears at the loss of one of the greatest of all time, and my personal childhood hero. So many great memories, one man I really wanted to meet. I am pleased to witness that I am not alone in my admiration of this true legend, and it warms me to read all these tributes. RIP Smokin Jo Frazier.

  • Comment number 35.

    Frazier, Ali, Foreman, Cooper, Bugner, Ellis, Mathias - Oh but for just one of these guys to be around in heavyweight boxing today!

    Modern Day fighters like Haye, Klitschko's, Harrison etc aren't worthy of being punch bags for these guys let alone stepping into the ring with them.

    'Smokin' Joe's Left hook, Henry's Hammer, Ali's Jab, Foreman's tremendous power.
    Some of the best punchers in boxing who all could take it to each other, I doubt we will ever have that again.

    The only time since then Heavyweight boxing even stirred a little was the Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield era, but even that was watered down in terms of dramatic theatre and skill when compared with the late 60's and early 70's.

    Even though I was not alive when he had his fights, I was told all about it by my Father, Uncle and Grandfathers as I was growing up. I've been lucky enough to see a video of "The Thriller In Manilla" and wish I could of been around to see those guys in their prime.

    'Smokin' Joe Frazier is easily in any true boxing fans top 5, along with Muhammed Ali and George Foreman. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy will live on.

    RIP 'Smokin' Joe

  • Comment number 36.

    RIP Joe Frazier. When you read about his life and view the fights, you realise what the true meaning of the over-used word "legend" really is. I agree with the message from this blog that Frazier and Ali complimented each other's greatness. But Frazier's story has been over-shadowed by Ali's. Frazier was a man with great heart, great courage, human flaws and human decency. Who, in his position, would not have felt bitterness and even hatred, perhaps? I know he also fell on hard times, living above a gym in Philadelphia I think. I find his life story inspiring. He had the heart of a champion. I was born in 66 but still remember that era when there were 5 greats - Frazier, Ali, Foreman, Norton and, at the end of the era, Holmes. Their stories are captured brilliantly in the film, "Champions Forever". I'm still a boxing fan but something has been lost from those days. I'm really sad that Joe Frazier has died. RIP.

  • Comment number 37.

    the likes of ali-frazier will never happen again as fights are stopped far too easy now. cotton wool society and all that. and they went through 15 rounds, now 12 is too much for most. poor evolution

  • Comment number 38.

    Sadly too young to have seen Smokin' Joe fight but having seen numerous relays of his fights, he deserves to be classed as a legend. With Frazier, Ali, Foreman, Cooper, Bugner, Ellis, Mathias etc. truly was a golden era for heavyweight boxing and as has already been said any of these greats would destroy the boxers of today. Found out about Joe dying this morning driving to work on 5Live, and heard Jo Bugner and the correspondant from the Sun talking. Some of the best radio I have heard in a long time, and the affection they both felt for Joe was obvious.

    A true great who will be sorely missed

  • Comment number 39.

    An amazing fighter and an equally amazing man. He never knew when he was beaten and would have continued in the thrilla in manila if his manager would have allowed it. Ali was, and always will be my favourite but I have nothing but respect and admiration for Joe. He trully was a warrior and deserves all the respect and plaudits that have ever come his way. The modern era of heavyweights are not fit to be mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Joe and Ali.The world will be a duller place without him and we may never see his likes again. RIP Smokin' Joe, have a safe journey to Valhallah

  • Comment number 40.

    I'm too young to have seen have seen 'Smokin Joe' in his heyday but as a teenager i was hooked on old videos of the boxing greats of that era, and while it was not difficult to see why Ali captured the imagination of the world, for me Joe Frazier is the man who i will always see as the ultimate champion, the grace and bravery with which he conducted himself in spite of relentless taunting and adversity are a lesson to us all.
    Ali may have been the greatest of all time but for me it was Joe Frazier who was the bravest.
    R.I.P. Joe Frazier, if the world sport sees another man of your like; we'll be grateful.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    Neags
    @25

    thanks for spotting it, got the grandkids today and guess what Dan is the one playing up.

    My apologies Ben, great Blogg on a truly great fighter.

    I often think that people of my age go overboard and elevate sportsmen, women beyond what they actually were at the time. In smokin's case it's well deserved and the old saying you don't know what you have until it's gone, really does apply to Joe and that era of heavyweight boxing. I remember as a teenager watching Liston losing the title to Clay, little did I know heavyweight boxing was about to enter a golden period and Joe was to be a major part of that era.

  • Comment number 43.

    Great blog. With West Indian parents, Smokin' Joe, Ali & all the other black stars of boxing were gods in our house. I was nearly born early when my uncle hit my mum caught up in the Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight. At just 6 years old I stayed up to watch the first great Joe vs. Ali fight & saw all 3 great fights live. Every Ali fan like myself will be feeling a loss, Joe was a real great & although Ali rightly was given the BBC Sports Personality of the Century he wouldn't have it without Joe.

  • Comment number 44.

    I am another too young to have seen Joe during his time...and in a way consider myself unfortunate in that respect. I grew up watching Tyson and Bruno among others, though I did not realise at the time that era would be the beginning of the end for the HW division.

    RIP Smokin Joe. Boxing has not been the same since your days and will not reach those heights again.

  • Comment number 45.

    Alright ben, I see you watched the thrilla in mailla documentary. Why didn't you just post the link rather than write word for word what that biased documentary showed. One irrefutable fact remains however-frazier was a legend.

  • Comment number 46.

    I disagree with those who say that neither Ali nor Frazier would have been so good without the other. Ali didn't need anyone to make him what he was, The Greatest of All Time.
    Joe Frazier didn't have the speed and grace of Ali, he wouldn't have won many points for style. He was, in all probability, too small, he had a dodgy left arm, and as we found out in later years an even dodgier left eye, so in the great scheme of things he had no right to be heavyweight champion of the world.
    And yet he defied the odds, he did win it, because no matter what he lacked, what he had was the heart of a lion, not to mention the left hook from hell!!
    He didn't know what it meant to take a backward step, he was simply an all out warrior who came forward relentlessly, throwing bombs.
    Smokin' Joe would have been the best in any other era either before or since. It's a shame he had the misfortune to be around at the same time as Ali, because he would have been Champion for a lot longer than he was, but their rivalry helped to make the 70's the last great era of heavyweight boxing, and those of us who were lucky enough to live through it will never forget it. Joe Frazier's passing is a sad day for boxing, we'll never see his like again...

  • Comment number 47.

    Joe-RIP

    A truly great warrior. I remember in the70's my dad who was a cricket fanatic and was not interested in another sport but would watch the JF & Mohd Ali's fights.We are at the time in Zambia and in a little town called Fort Jameson which had no TV's.The only TV's were in Lusaka which was 360 miles away.On the night of the fights my dad would take me with him and travel 360 miles to Lusaka to watch the fights and would drive back again the same night after the fight.

    And I must say we were never disappointed.They were truly great fights and JF deserves all the accolades.

  • Comment number 48.

    I believe it was Joe Louis who said when hearing of Marciano's passing - 'Someone stand over him and count....he'll get up!' ..I love that...Was there ever a braver man than Joe, already blind in one eye, then damaged in the other and he still wouldn't give in to Ali.Fuch's decision was maybe a lifesaver but Joe's heartbreak must have been hard to imagine..

  • Comment number 49.

    Lovely eulogy Ben - great writing. Thanks.

  • Comment number 50.

    Great article for a true legend of the game. When you think about building the perfect heavyweight in history without a doubt that left hook would be included. What a left hook you can see Reggie and Harry calling a couple of big fights up there with Joe and Rocky. RIP big man boxing and Philly will be a smaller place today

  • Comment number 51.

    My boxing memories go back to Eric Boon v Arthur Danahar, and your blog takes me back to Peter Wilson of the Mirror - excellent.
    Smokin Joe was undoubtedly a one-off his passing is a sad day all true boxing fans.

  • Comment number 52.

    When They Were Kings - and they were the royalty of the ring. And Joe Frazier was a King. A bygone era of boxing that will never be again. We will never see their like again. Men and warriors. Blood and guts. Bravest of the brave. I can remember watching those fights on TV with my adrenalin pumping. I still get emotional now watching the videos. Joe Frazier - a giant of the ring. Who knew no fear. With a heart that was all courage. R I P Joe

  • Comment number 53.

    I was very young when Joe Frazier was at his prime but have watched many re runs of his fights and others of that era.
    He was indeed a warior and a great champion in a time when heavyweight boxing was an incredible spectacle.
    I like others on here fear those days are long gone now and we will not see the like of them again.
    RIP Joe.

  • Comment number 54.

    RIP Joe

    you had more heart than Ali had mouth
    and that says it all

  • Comment number 55.

    Jimsteelshat
    @50

    Jim
    @300

    Smokin Joe versus Rocky Marciano, unbelievable fight, commentary courtesy of Harry Carpenter, then read all about it the next day via Peter Wilson's column. Absolute heaven.

    I'd have to go with Marciano but what a fight it would have been.

  • Comment number 56.

    Off topic but relevant to this weeks sport and culture (if 606 were still open I wouldn't need to post here), why can't England just wear armbands or wristbands with poppies on?

    Sad news about Joe Frazier, I can't comment much as far too young to have any real knowledge of him. Only really know of the Thriller in Manila and that he was a Heavyweight World Champion for 3 years.

  • Comment number 57.

    It should not be forgotten that when Ali fought Frasier for the first time it was only his third fight after the three and a half year lay off. The best that Frasier ever was would not have lasted long against the early Ali. However, in these dismal days of boxing, when idiots are in charge, those three fights stand out as magnificent heights of the noble art.

  • Comment number 58.

    Smokin Joe was a class act, gave Ali money when he lost his license by avoiding Vietnam And was broke, I can never forgive Ali for stirring up so much hatred against Joe that they burned his house.
    Ali can say whatever he wants , but his despicable actions and dreadful comments cannot be erased.
    I did not know about Joes loss of vision until after his fights , but with Joe it was much more than the sport of boxing , it was his vindication of manhood , pride, courage and dignity, R.I.P.

  • Comment number 59.

    Today's broadcast about Joe Frazier gave the impression that Joe had been taken of all his money and lived in a room above his gym in North Philly. This is not accurate, Joe was lucky enough to be sponsored by a corporate group called Cloverleaf when nobody else thought he was big enough to have a real career. This corporation made sure his money was taken like it was from so many boxers (like Joe Lewis and Ali). Smokin' Joe had enough to be able to help finace Ali in his fight to get his boxing license back, something you would not suspect given how Ali so abused him later on. In the 80s and 90s Joe had a very nice upscale house in a suburb outside Philly that was known for it's Christmas decorations. More recently he lived in an expensive condo in center city Philly. While not a 'Native Son' of Philly, he was clearly adopted by the city and became one of it's sports icons because he so reflected the city's blue collar attitude.

  • Comment number 60.

    The man that brought the Greatest out of the Greatest...a legend a quiet man one of the greats, a very sad day for sport, not just boxing!

    I am stunned and quite angry that the editor of BBC Sport on line seems the petulant actions of a certain Mr Tevez as the top sports story of the day....that grotesque man and story are a sad indictment on what journalists see as sport in this modern age.

    Fraziers contribution to sport...EPIC, Tevez's, a sorry spoilt little man who doesnt even want to play his sport...come on BBC stop pandering to these people and recognise those who have inspired and empowered people across the world, surely the mark of a REAL sportsman?

  • Comment number 61.

    Great blog and a legend in boxing and the heavyweight division. RIP Joe Fraizer

  • Comment number 62.

    I had a tear in my eye this morning when I heard of Smokin Joe's passing.
    This man was a legend as he never took a backward step in the ring and his courage and tenacity was a sight to behold. He was quite simply as hard as nails.

    Anyone watching the Ali fight trilogy will notice that he didn't take any messing from Ali in the ring and gave Ali as good as he got and more. He simply would not be bullied or intimidated by him and was never afraid of Ali or in awe of him.

    The sad thing for me was the bitterness he held towards Ali although I can undertand why. I do hope he reconciled his differences with Ali before he died, but I am not so sure he did. I sincerely sympathised with Joe, who privately gave Ali money to survive when he had his Boxing Licence revoked (a fact verified by Ali), only to see Ali completely verbally rubbish him when he became Champion and succeeded in turning the black people of America against Joe with his "Uncle Tom " comments to hype the fight. This led to death threats to Joe and his family as well as the burning of his house. Joe never verbally retaliated to the comments made by Ali and retained his dignity in the matter, choosing to do his talking in the ring.

    In later years Ali tried to erase the matter by publicly stating his admiration for Joe as a fighter but Joe never forgave him as Ali never apologised to him in person.

    Joe Frasier's honesty and integrity could never be questioned and he called it as it was.

    For me, a true legend of the ring who may not have been the "greatest" in it, but without question a greater man outside of it.

    RIP Joe

  • Comment number 63.

    Nice to read what "Bomber" wrote.

    I agree that Norton won all three bouts.
    For my money, Frazier, Norton and Ali
    were the three greatest heavy-weights
    and that they made the division.

    All three champions, in my book.

  • Comment number 64.

    Many sports stars of today are up there with the greats - Tendulkar, Federer, Messi to name but three - but as a misty-eyed 50-year-old I can confirm I spent my teenage years living through a golden age of heavyweight boxing.

    They say music is the soundtrack to your life but for me sport has also defined and bookmarked my life.

    I seem to recall (hopefully these aren't the ramblings of a rose-tinted spectacle wearer) the heavyweight champion always seemed to fight the number one contender.

    The number one contender had previously won a final eliminator meaning the standard of boxing was as high as it could be - these guys couldn't afford to take a career break and appear on Strictly Come Dancing. Audley Who? God give me strength.

    Not only did we have Ali, Frazier and Foreman but also fighters such as Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonevena, Buster Mathis, Ron Lyle who would all have been world champion in the current era.

    Brilliant era, brilliant fighters, and Smokin' Joe has every right to be considered one of the all time greats.

  • Comment number 65.

    The world will miss you, Smokin' Joe, as will the sport of boxing. You'll be happy to know Mr. Motormouth himself led the tributes paid to acknowledge your greatness. Your quiet dignity was an inspiration to many, and no one will forget what you achieved through sheer hard work and true grit. R.I.P., champ.

  • Comment number 66.

    I'm not a huge boxing fan, to put it mildly, but the article managed to tug a few heart-strings. Definitely one of your best pieces of writing, Ben.

  • Comment number 67.

    Simply part of the greatest era of boxing! Courage beyond the norm, those few made heavyweight boxing the king of all sports for a short time. They made boxing transcend the sport into headline news, politically, racially, regliously, but most importantly via the human spirit.

  • Comment number 68.

    Great blog. also just read the article linked in post no. 2, I'm not old enough to have watched these live, it was around 1976-77 I started watching boxing with my dad so I was lucky enough to see ali foreman, holmes era, there was a huge void in boxing after this only ever partially replaced, for me by the middleweight division, americans in the early/ mid 80's and the british that fired up in the later 80's and nineties, but as fierce as those rivalries were they are poor imitations of the greatest era in boxing history. RIP Smokin Joe, a true Legend in an era of Legend's

  • Comment number 69.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 70.

    RIP Joe. However, I don't agree with those readers who think that Ali and Frazier had a bitter realtionship to the end. Actually Ali followers are aware that Ali and Frazier met on several occasions in the last five years and, by all accounts, their meetings were cordial. Ali was a poet, flamboyant and a provocateur but also a nice, solid and warm person as his long friendship with our own Henry Cooper illustrated. It's fair to say that Ali's stature wa enhanced by his encounters with Smokin' Joe. In his own words, Ali said that the 'thriller in Manilla' was the closest he had come to death. We mourn Frazier in the way I believe he would have liked: paying tribute to him without acrimony.

  • Comment number 71.

    Hi Ben,

    Great blog as always and nice to see Smokin' Joe get some attention, a true legend as anyone who has seen those 14 rounds in manilla will testify to, just incredible...

    Which brings me to my point. I do not see this kind of heart and desire in boxing now days (certainly not in the heavyweight division anyway). The only place this exists now is in the world of MMA and mainly the UFC where fighters truly seem to put everything on the line and 'championship' fights mean everything. Surely the system they use whereby the organisation has an autonomous matchmaker and each weight class fights for one belt only is the reason for this?

    This looks like it is having a snowball effect as because of its growing popularity it would seem that most of the talented young athletes in america (if they don't make it at NFL or basketball etc) are moving into MMA because of the riches and glory on offer that boxing no longer offers which means the UFC is continually blessed with amazing new athletes and so champions (George St Pierre and Anderson Silva apart)very rarely hold on to their belt for any length of time.

    Would just like to know, if like me your loyalties have shifted from boxing to UFC because of the dirth of exciting fights on offer?

    Also, why is it that the BBC refuse to cover the worlds fasting growing sport? I understand the 'cock fighting' argument but this is now outdated surely. This weekend, one of the biggest fights in the history of this burgeoning sport takes place and it would be nice if we had some coverage from respected journalists like yourself...

  • Comment number 72.

    Great write up on a great legend!
    A true sporting great has been lost. He will be remembered as a true warrior of the ring, an icon and most of all a boxing legend!

  • Comment number 73.

    steevJames-

    UFC is undoubtably the best up and coming sport, has been for years to be honest, i dont expect to see any BBC coverage anytime soon tho, for several reasons, id love to discuss UFC but lets remember Smokin Joe first, UFC will be fine without the bbc trust me lol

  • Comment number 74.

    p.s boxing is pretty much dead now, although if im right in hearing Mayweather v Pac might actually be happening at last that is one fight i DO want to watch!

  • Comment number 75.

    Lesmow @ 23

    Duh! The statue in Philly you find so 'blasphemous' (do you know what this word means?) is not actually of a fictional character, but actually represents Rocky Marciano, rather than Balboa! And I'd hope you'd agree he was probably good for it!

    Also, Chicago is the windy city, not Philly. That's brotherly love..

    Though I'd agree the city is big enough to warrant another statue, and Joe's contribution to boxing, his city and the wider-world in terms of the amazing entertainment he helped provide is certainly deserving of one.

  • Comment number 76.

    This blog touches on all the right key points and bristles along creating athmosphere and emotion. You really caught the moment here Ben.

    No sign of bias and no hype needed. Just a great fighter and very well written words. If only there was a Joe Frazier to write about now.

    I agree with Captain in that this is the best boxing blog I've seen of yours.


    RIP Joe.

  • Comment number 77.

    The first Frazier-Ali fight was the first great sports event that I remember (after the 1970 World Cup). It is perhaps a measure of the strength of the heavyweight division at the time that the bout transcended sport so completely, and no other contest since then has come close.

    Frazier, 32-4-1 (27), will be remembered as one of the dozen-or-so greatest heavyweights, and his claim to fame will be taking away Ali's undefeated record...

  • Comment number 78.

    Legend, Champion. One of the best Heavyweights. R I P smoke.

  • Comment number 79.

    Excellent obituary to a towering figure.
    Frazier did have many physical attributes-strength, speed, power in both hands, a good chin & amazing stamina, but they meant less than the qualities that aren't easily measurable.
    Frazier's mental/spiritual durability made him legendary. Like Henry Armstrong, Beau Jack, Rocky Marciano, Evander Holyfield, v few others, he literally could not give up to an extent that was, frankly, terrifying.
    In Manilla he ended R14 blind. How could he have been sent back out to take punches from an opponent he couldn't even see ? Yet he was furious with Futch for stopping the bout.
    Roll back 3 years to Kingston, Ja & he was again furious the bout was stopped although Foreman himself was pleading "stay down Joe, so I don't kill you".
    He came from a horrific background where, even as late as the 60s, sharecroppers in the deep south lived lives that were almost identical to their slave ancestors. Technically they were emancipated but materially their lives had got, if anything, worse.
    His intensity was appalling. He'd have walked through fire to remain world champion, to retain his status & self-respect.
    Of course modern fighters can't repeat that. Perhaps we should be v glad about that.
    He remains a legend in the truest sense, & when people talk about warriors, from Achilles & Hector onwards, they'll talk about "Smokin Joe"

  • Comment number 80.

    With regards to Fraziers vs Foreman. It looked as if Fraizer would have fared better (in both fights) if he adapted his style and not stand his ground so often with Foreman.

  • Comment number 81.

    With regards to Fraziers vs Foreman. It looked as if Fraizer would have fared better (in both fights) if he adapted his style and not stand his ground so often with Foreman.

  • Comment number 82.

    #75 Metox. You are incorrect

    Please see link ;-

    http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/the-rocky-statue-and-the-rocky-steps/

    Rocky Balboa statue is in philadelphia.

    Rocky Marciano statue is in Brockton Massachusetts

 

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