Smokin’ Jo Frazier – The First to Beat Ali – Loses Last Fight To Liver Cancer
THEY were the supermen. The Olympians, the best in world and both holders of the Olympiad heavyweight boxing gold. Muhammad Ali and Smokin’ Jo Frazier were the Titans of the boxing ring. The fittest and most finely tuned athletes in the world.
Jo Frazier died yesterday one month after being diagnosed with liver cancer at 67-years-old.
Their mountain top was a time when American Whites picked their favourite Black man to represent their hopes and ambitions. Frazier (probably the better boxer of the two) was the Great Substitute White Hope when he went into the ring to face that “Uppity Southern Nigger Trash Cassius Clay.” That was the sort of senseless race hatred freely expressed in the USA in those days; there was no Clay, he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali seven years before their first clash.
Frazier held the world heavyweight title because Ali had been stripped of it when refusing to fight in Vietnam.
In the rest of the world that sort of distinction between the men was non-existent or blurred, both were thought of as the best of them all and could only be beaten by each other.
Frazier was the first boxer to beat Ali during the first of their three meetings. They met as undefeated boxers when they stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden in 1971 for the billed Fight of the Century. At the end Frazier had flattened Ali with a left hook and won a unanimous 15-round decision.
Ali was hammered and didn’t wait for the result to be announced. He knew he was beaten and went to hospital.
Frazier in March this year
Four years later they met again for The Thrilla in Manila in 1975 won by Ali when Frazier’s trainer wouldn’t let him from the stool for the 15th round because his closed left eye meant he was defenceless against Ali’s lightening bolt right hand.
It was one of the most brutal heavyweight boxing matches ever and Ali described it as being the closest to death he had ever been. Ali, the winner, came off the worse in the battle.
They met once more in a 12 round forgettable non-event. Ali won. Frazier retired and returned to Philadelphia, training fighters in a large gym he owned. He devoted himself to his religion and life as a boxing trainer. He lived in Ali’s shadow despite being thought of as the better fighter by most boxing pundits and other boxers. The two fought out 41 bruising rounds.
Ali was not his only opponent of note and during his career he took on all-comers in The Hay Day for heavyweights. Besides Ali and Foreman, there was Jerry Quarry, the UK’s adopted Joe Bugner, Oscar Bonavena and George Chuvalo.
This was the stuff of dreams when the world’s best athlete’s stood toe to toe to decide the outcome.
Legends of their own time, with millions of followers in what was undoubtedly the most brutal and dangerous sport known.