By In Stuff

Smokin’ Joe

One of the things that has always fascinated me about the violent sport of boxing is the sweet nature of so many former boxers. Not all, of course. But some. Maybe it’s because they left much of their fury and hatred in the ring. There was a sweetness to the Joe Frazier I met. He was, at those moments, struggling financially and unable to let go of his justifiable anger at Muhammad Ali. He was also proud of the wars he fought and maybe a little bit hurt that some people didn’t remember him more often. Frazier was an Olympic Gold Medalist. Frazier was heavyweight champion of the world when that meant something. Frazier beat Ali in the first fight they fought, floored him in the 15th. They would, of course, fight again.

As a fighter, Frazier couldn’t handle George Foreman — there was just something Kryptonite about Big George and Frazier was knocked out both times they fought — but he matched up artfully with Ali, left hook against quick jab, earthquake body blows against searing right crosses, neither willing to concede to the others will. As a man, though, Frazier couldn’t handle Ali’s charisma, his jovial cruelty, him calling Frazier “Gorilla” before they fought in the rhyming Manilla. Their third fight, the Thrilla, was probably the greatest fight — or most horrifying, depending on your viewpoint — in the known history of boxing. Two men tore into each other without restraint, seemingly beyond the scope of human endurance. Frazier was almost dead but unwilling to cease and desist when, according to Mark Kram’s untouchable story, his trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight with those most human of words: “Sit down, son. It’s all over.”

Frazier fought twice more after that, though he should’t have fought again. He was batted around by Foreman and then he fought someone named Floyd Cummings to a draw in Chicago when he was almost 38 by actual years, and his body was ancient and wrecked. And then he lived the rest of his life in relative anonymity, a victim of Where Are They Now. As remarkable as Kram’s live story was Bill Nack’s legendary piece called simply The Fight’s Over, Joe.

Yes Frazier was furious with Ali, and disappointed to be remembered as the lesser of two rivals. But, as I say, there was a sweetness to the man and when I got to sit down with him and talk about boxing he was funny and charming and wonderful. One thing I remember more than any other was his description of getting hit by Foreman. He said it was like getting hit by a truck going forward, and then hit by the same truck going backward.

And then he said: “But I’ll bet I made other people feel that way too.” And he did.

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21 Responses to Smokin’ Joe

  1. davidinnyc says:

    Red Smith, the greatest sportswriter of all time (IMHO), wrote after the Thrilla in Manila:

    “Joe Frazier makes Muhammad Ali fight better than he knows how.”

    I always found that a precise and poignant summary of their relationship.

    Joe Frazier was the Lou Gehrig to Muhammad Ali’s Babe Ruth — one of the greatest of all time who had the chronological misfortune of being around at the exact same time as THE greatest of all time. He was, without a doubt, unduly overshadowed by his more charismatic opponent.

  2. Clashfan says:

    That man could *hit*.

  3. “He was, without a doubt, unduly overshadowed by his more charismatic opponent.”

    I wonder how many other situations like this we can find in the history of sports.

  4. As a kid I remember he and Ali scuffling on the set of Wide World of Sports during an interview with Howard Cosell. I believe it was after Ali called him an ‘uncle tom.’
    At the time I was completely absorbed by the Cult of Muhammad Ali like everyone else, and completely willing to see Joe Frazier as the bad guy, the villian, the heel. I was too young to understand why Frazier would lose his temper over such a term.
    It wasn’t later until I was older and read a little that I realized it wasn’t that simple, that black and white. Nothing ever is.
    Frazier, for all his ferocity in the ring, was a nice man outside of it.
    And Ali, despite his religious conviction and his determination to stand for his beliefs at the risk of personal cost, was in many ways kind of a bully.
    Rest in peace, Joe. It’s good that his greatness is finally being recognized

  5. Grulg says:

    70’s were quite a decade for boxers-Ernie Shavers, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, etc to go along w/ the greats Ali, Frazier and Foreman. Something else indeed to watch them all.

  6. Vidor says:

    Gregg Doyel:

    “Heard Joe Posnanski is on campus defending Joe Pa. Calling him a scapegoat. Smart guy. Decent writer. Total moron”

    Is this true?

  7. Vidor says:

    Ouch, ouch, ouch. It IS true. Posnanski has gone into full-on Apologist For Paterno mode.

    http://deadspin.com/5858278/

    “A lot of people came here to bury Joe. As a writer, I’m mad with that, as someone who’s come to know the Paternos, I’m heartbroken.”

    Those were tweets by a student at the Paterno class (!) that Posnanski was at, so maybe they aren’t verbatim quotes…but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read this blog the same way again. Can’t believe that’s what Posnanski is taking away from this, to feel sorry for Paterno.

  8. Noah says:

    Read what Deadspin wrote fully, and you’ll see a very reasoned take on how these comments could come out of any writer’s mouth.

  9. Rob says:

    “Homer, I know things are tough now. But one day, you’ll be walking along, and you’ll see a piece of furniture you can love just as much.”

    Joe Frazier, gentleman.

  10. Linus says:

    Even though I agree substantively with Doyel and not Joe in this particular situation, Doyel is an ass, and as a writer is not fit to carry Joe’s jock. So, you know, there’s that.

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  12. Marco says:

    I also feel sorry for Paterno. He was put in a bad situation through no fault of his own.

    Then he made that situation worse, so he deserves what he’s getting.

  13. Vidor says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. NMark W says:

    I’m visiting KC, MO for a few days and visited the Negro Leagues Museum today – enjoyed it and was happy to be there as Buck’s 100th birthday is tomorrow (Sunday, 13th) and it’s a special weekend at the museum. It was my first visit and did the $100 for 100 today too. Thanks for all your promotional help, Joe! A nice lady at the counter today got a wide smile when I mentioned that I was visiting partly due to Joe Posnanski’s encouragement. She just said, “Oh, he’s a mighty good friend to many of us around here.”

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  16. Clashfan says:

    Vidor, please take the Paterno stuff over to that thread, and leave the Joe Frazier thread alone.

    Thanks.

  17. Even though I agree substantively with Doyel and not Joe in this particular situation, Doyel is an ass, and as a writer is not fit to carry Joe’s jock. So, you know, there’s that.

  18. Fabio says:

    I also feel sorry for Paterno. He was put in a bad situation through no fault of his own.
    Then he made that situation worse, so he deserves what he’s getting. the impossible quiz answers

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