Fighting with a busted thumb? No problem. Fighting at short notice? So what! Fighting the biggest fights of his career with only partial sight in one eye? “ I had a job to do.”
This is only a small portion of the legend that belongs to the great Joe Frazier; “Smokin’ Joe,” who would today have been celebrating his 77th birthday had cancer not taken him back in 2011. Frazier really was some fighter. That is an understatement. Frazier was a born fighter, he was a once-in-a-lifetime fighter. In fact, were it not for Muhammad Ali, Frazier might be looked at today as the greatest heavyweight champion of them all.
Joe was born into poverty, his fighting instincts seeing to it that he survived and made something of his life. Standing just over 5’11,” Frazier was told at a young age he would become “the next Joe Louis.” Frazier never fought a bit like Louis, yet the man from Beaufort – soon to help add to the fighting spirit and legendary status of the city of Philadelphia – forged ahead and made his own legend. Possessor of the finest left hook in the long history of the heavyweight division, Frazier also had unlimited stamina, unimaginable heart and desire, a tough-to-time bob and weave approach, and ferocious finishing ability. For a while, Frazier was the quintessential unstoppable force.
Fine men such as Oscar Bonavena (twice, the first time only just), Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo, Buster Mathis (whose place in the ’64 Olympic final Joe took), Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis, were beaten before Joe took on Ali in the titanic Fight Of The Century in March of 1971. Frazier won, over fifteen brutal rounds, and he was, finally, THE heavyweight king of the world. Joe had peaked. He was the best fighter on the planet – this at a time when legends like Jose Napoles, Bob Foster (the victim of a nasty Frazier KO) and Carlos Monzon were plying their trade.
Frazier was then ran over by a young George Foreman, his career seemingly in tatters. Yet Joe, fighting high blood pressure, ever deteriorating sight in his left eye, and pleas from his family to retire, fought on. What Frazier managed to achieve came purely from his soul. His tools worn down, Joe fought on heart and hate alone as he pushed bitter rival Ali to the brink in Manila. “Sit down, Joe. No-one will ever forget what you did today,” Eddie Futch famously whispered into the ear of a barely conscious Frazier at the conclusion of that hellish 14th round.
Futch was right. Nobody who was there did forget. And they never will. Neither will any fight fans ever forget Joe Frazier.
Happy Birthday, Champ. 77 years.