07 November, 2011

The man who would have been the "Greatest of All-Time" (but for one man) - has died:

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"If I ever enter a Holy War, I want Joe Frazier by my side," - Muhammad Ali speaking after the 1975 epic fight v Smokin' Joe; 'The Thrilla in Manila'            

               Former Olympic (1964) and undisputed heavyweight boxing champion (1971-'73):  Smokin'  Joe Frazier has died tonight aged 67 after a  "short battle"  with liver cancer.
             Joe will forever be remembered for his hateful, epic trilogy of wars with Muhammad Ali.  Whilst he knocked Ali out in the final round at New York's Madison Square Garden; he was to lose the rematch two years later. 
Frazier knocks down Ali en route to winning the "Fight of the Century"
          What has since been hailed as the greatest fight of all-time; "The Thrilla in Manila" was the fight which both men will forever be remembered whenever boxing is discussed.  For 14 rounds, the two men traded thunderous blows before Joe's trainer Eddie Futch retired him on his stool, in fear that his man would be killed during the final round as he was almost completely blind due to swelling in both eyes.  
            The fight was finished with Futch whispering the words:  "I'm getting you out of there, but no-one will ever forget what you've done here tonight."  Upon hearing word that the fight was stopped; Muhammad Ali stood up, raised one arm in the air, before collapsing to the ground.  In later years; Futch was asked if he ever regretted stopping the fight; to which he replied simply:  "No.  Not ever."
2008 film tells the real story of the "Thrilla in Manila"
"I'm getting you out of there, but no-one will ever forget what you've done here today," - Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch stops the 'Thrilla in Manila'           

                Having treated Frazier with dispicable contempt in the build up to the fight;  Ali changed his tune in the aftermath.  "Joe is a great fighter, a truly great fighter.  I want to sleep for one week after this fight.      This is the closest I have come to death in the ring."
            Whilst Muhammad Ali (and many boxing experts) would forever proclaim himself to be the  "Greatest of all Time";  he could never have reached such a lofty status had it not been for the other fighters he was associated with in his era.  Having fought names such as George Foreman, Sonny Liston, George Chuvalo, Ken Norton and most especially Joe Frazier; all at their peak in and around the same time;  there can be little doubt that theirs was the greatest ever era of heavyweight boxing, an era where Oscar winning documentaries were made about single fights.
Frazier celebrates winning World Title v Ali: MSG 1971

"Goodnight Joe Frazier.  I love you dear friend," - two time heavyweight World Champion George Foreman            

              The Ali-Frazier battles played out at a time when the heavyweight boxing champion was far more celebrated than he is today, a figure who could stand alone in the spotlight a decade before an alphabet soup of boxing sanctioning bodies arose, making it difficult for the average fight fan to figure out just who held what title.
             There can be little doubt that both fighters should have retired after their 1975 conflict.
Ali taunts Frazier; Manila, the Philippines, 1975
   Neither man was the same thereafter and the bitterness between the two was to fester many years.  In the build-up to the fight, Ali called Frazier an "Uncle Tom.  A black man wanting to be the next Great White Hope," - this was a terrible insult to come from one black man to another.  Ali would also storm Joe's training sessions and refer to him as a  "gorilla" at press conferences:  "It'll be a thrilla, a chilla and a killa when I beat that gorilla in Manila," - being an oft repeated phrase coming from the lips of Ali in the lead up to fight night.  For a man who had financially helped Ali and toured with him (during Ali's enforced boxing exiled from 1967-'70); it was undeserved abuse.  Such was the level of bile dished out that Frazier's kids were the subjects of vicious taunts and bullying from other kids at the time, simply because their father was Joe "Uncle Tom" Frazier with the two men coming to blows on a pre-fight television chat show.
              When Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1985;  Frazier's reaction was to proudly say:  "I did that to him" and the Philadelpia native did not speak to his old foe for over 20 years.  Upon hearing Ali had lit the 1996 Atlanta Olympic flame after numerous attempts, with hands trembling uncontollably and unable to speak; Frazier barked:  "If I was close enough; I'd have thrown him (Ali) into the flame."
Joe Frazier's Philadelphia gym
              After retiring, Joe opened a small gym over his own run down house in a working class suburb of Philadelphia and was to train his son and daughter to become champions.  It is a sad indictment of how America treats its sporting icons that in the late 1990's;  Muhammad Ali sold rights to a book deal for some US$50million, whilst Smokin' Joe struggled to make ends meet in a backstreet boxing gym. 

Joe Frazier presented with the Front Page Daily News Award 2011
Whilst Joe Frazier might not have been a better fighter than Ali; Frazier was definitely a better man.

              In a 2004 New York Times interview;  Muhammad Ali apologised for eveything he had said to hurt Joe.  "I said what I said to promote the fight, but I went too far and I am deeply sorry," - being the headline words from the only three time undisputed World heavyweight champion.  There were times - usually with the promise of an economic opportunity that Joe Frazier would lighten his attitude towards Ali but it was only in the last couple of years that there appeared to be any easing of tensions between the two.  Upon hearing that Frazier was admitted to a hospice last week; Ali offered his best wishes.  Ali was also one of the first to offer his public sympathies with news coming through of Frazier's death with Ali hailing Smokin' Joe  "The greatest fighter I ever faced.  May he rest in peace."
             Joe Frazier only ever lost to George Foreman and Muhammad Ali (twice each) in 37 professional fights and fought almost his entire career blind in his left eye following a training accident sustained whilst still a teenager.  Whilst Frazier might not have been a better fighter than Ali; Frazier was definitely a better man.
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