by James Slater – The phrase living legend is often one that is overused in boxing, but it applies 100-percent to this man. Joe Frazier is the all-time great prize-fighter in question, and he has attached to his name one of the most apt and well known nicknames the sport has ever produced. Known universally as “Smokin'” Joe, the 65-year-old is over in Wales at the moment, and tonight he speaks at a special dinner in Cardiff.
Earlier today, though, Wales On-Line.com caught up with the great man who is loved and respected the word over for having done things the hard way in an amateur and pro career that began in the early 1960s.. As approachable and fan-friendly as he was fierce in the ring, the former Olympic gold medallist and long-reigning heavyweight champion of the world may not speak with clarity today, but he gets his point across well enough.
Speaking with Wales On-Line, the former king spoke about his bitter rivalry with Muhammad Ali, his displeasure at how Sylvester Stallone went about using his services to make the “Rocky” movie, and Joe also spoke briefly about new US president Barack Obama.
Naturally, it was the three fight series with Ali that Joe was asked about first.
“I don’t mind talking about my rivalry with Muhammad,” Joe said. “It’s what a lot of people remember me for. I think I had better fights than when I beat him. But the world wanted me to kick his butt so that is the one [the first fight, held in March of 1971) people see as the best.”
Two fights with Ali followed, of course, and the final instalment – The “Thrilla in Manila” – saw Ali really go into overdrive in the nasty comments department. Ali’s spite and sharp tongue back in 1975 has been well documented, and today Joe is still angry. He was in a forgiving mood today, however.
“It wouldn’t be fair to kick a man when he’s down,” Frazier said, with obvious reference to Ali’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s. “He always liked to talk a lot and that wasn’t the fight game. He didn’t just want to be a champion, he wanted to do everything. He wanted to be the newsreader, the ring announcer, the promoter – anything but a proper fighter. I didn’t have a problem with Ali though because I knew how to whip his ass.
“It’s not up to me to forgive him (for the insults he threw), only the Lord can do that.”
Apart from being one half of the most fascinating and thrilling heavyweight rivalries in boxing history, Joe made his mark on the world in other ways – even in the movie world. It’s no secret writer and actor Sly Stallone strongly based his famous 1976 character “Rocky Balboa” on Joe’s real life exploits. Today, the man who did in actual life what the movie creation did on film, does not look back at the Oscar-winning film with happiness.
“Rocky was put together by Stallone watching other people and making money from their lives,” Joe said. “It wasn’t the real deal though. He just studied what people like me did and put it together for himself. Maybe I’d be a better movie because mine really is the true story.”
One can understand Joe’s displeasure. After all, Stallone’s fictitious fighter got a big as life statue erected in his honour – in Philly, at that – and Joe got nothing!
Moving on, Joe, like many fighters who fought when he did, yearns for those days of one world champion and less weight divisions to come back. So much so that the 65-year-old is going to pay a visit with his country’s new President.
“I’m going to go and talk to President Obama,” Joe promised. “A group of us old boxers are going to go and talk to him to see if he can help get boxing back to the way it was when me, George [Foreman] and Muhammad used to fight. In my day the rules and regulations were beautiful. You had one belt and you knew who was the true world champion. They don’t have the sort of rivalries me and Muhammad had anymore because there are so many different champions.
“I’d love to see it back to that because boxing is my game, it took care of me and I want to see it restored to its former glory.”
God bless Joe Frazier for at least trying to do the impossible, and good luck to him also.
As for those guests lucky enough to be in attendance at The Holland House Hotel in Cardiff tonight; enjoy being in the presence of a genuine boxing legend!