Joseph William Frazier (January 12, 1944 – November 7, 2011), nicknamed “Smokin’ Joe”, was an American professional boxer who competed from 1965 to 1981. He was known for his strength, durability, formidable left hand, and relentless pressure fighting style . He is known for being the first man to defeat Muhammad Ali. He is known for being the guy that George Foreman brutalized to win heavyweight gold. All four of his career losses came from Ali or Foreman. And for that, Joe Frazier has somehow been cast into the second tier of heavyweight champions, an also ran who was just missing something to be truly great. That’s untrue and shameful.
Joe Frazier was a fighting man his whole life. As a boy, he helped farm two landowners Jim and Mac Bellamy in South Carolina. Joe was to care for a 300 lb hog and help till land. One day, an African American boy came on the property and damaged the tractors belonging to the Bellamys. Jim took of his belt and beat the boy severely. He then threatened Joe, who had seen the beating and told others about. Even as a child, faced with a larger for, Joe didn’t cower. He let Jim know that keeping the belt on was smarter, because he couldn’t fight with his pants down. Joe’s mother was terrified for his life saying, “If you can’t get along with white people, you best leave. I’m afraid of what might happen to you”. This, Frazier was forced to begin his foray in the world and into boxing.
Joe Frazier was a marvel for United States boxing in 1964. He won the only American gold in boxing at that year’s Olympics. Frazier turned professional in 1965 by defeating Woody Goss by a technical knockout in the first round. He won three more fights that year, all by knockout and none going past the third round. Later that year, he was in a training accident that left him legally blind in his left eye. During pre-fight physicals, after reading the eye chart with his right eye, when prompted to cover his other eye, Frazier switched hands but covered his left eye for a second time. From this point on, Joe Frazier decided not to quit but to be great as a half blind boxer.
By 1967, Joe Frazier was the number one contender to Muhammad Ali. At this time Ali was facing prison and suspension of his boxing license for draft evasion. At this time, Ali was broke . His management and affiliation with the Nation of Islam, married to his philandering habits, were draining him. At this time, he had a friend in boxing who would lend him money, testify before Congress that it was immoral to punish Ali for his beliefs, and attack the boxing association for stripping Ali. This friend also refused to take part in a title eliminator tournament to crown a champion in Muhammad Ali’s exile. This friend was Joe Frazier.
Ali had long said that Joe couldn’t whoop him. He said that Joe was a monkey. Muhammad Ali was able to convince black Americans that Joe Frazier was an” Uncle Tom” for becoming champion while a man who fights for black rights was stripped. The venom became verbatim as Bryant Gumbel would write an article headlined by “ Joe Frazier: Is he a white champion in black skin?”. Ali was so confident that he would defeat Joe Frazier that he promised that if he lost, he would crawl across the ring and proclaim Joe Frazier was the better fighter. Ali lost. Frazier won. Ali reneged on his promise, calling the decision loss a white man’s decision.
We know of how Joe Frazier was dropped six times by George Foreman in losing his undefeated record and title. We know he faced and lost to Muhammad Ali twice more. We know of that 1981 comeback draw. What we do not know, is why is Joe Frazier a second class act? He beat the greatest. Can he, if for a moment in time, be considered the greatest. Instead his legacy is further spat upon by the career of his son Marvis who was walloped by champion Larry Holmes and the reincarnation of Joe Frazier, young Mike Tyson. He is also chided for his daughter Jacqui Frazier’s loss to Laila Ali, yes that Ali.
Let’s remember Joe for what he was. He was a fighter who stood up no matter how much he was knocked down. Never viewed as more than a placeholder, until something more spectacular came, Joe Frazier was there when needed. He save America at 1964’s Olympics. He ruled the heavyweight roost I Ali’s exile and proved his detractors wrong by beating Ali. No more could they dispute his legitimacy as king. He was Muhammad Ali’s rival, embittered by decades of being called a monkey, while also not supporting issues of black social justice. He was proud of Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s and attributes it to divine intervention for years of abuse. He was hard and made so. Joe Frazier and the gritty tale of a 15 year old leaving home and wrapping his hands to punch me at to make a living hasn’t inspired a move. Joe Frazier isn’t an icon to many. He’s the guy that had a good night. For a guy who had to teach himself everything, and the hard way, a good day was more happiness and surgery than ever known in 67 years.