Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion of the world, who passed away yesterday at 67, lived a storybook sort of life. From his humble roots in rural South Carolina, he rose to become the world’s heavy weight champion, back in a time when Howard Cosell was the voice and Muhammed Ali was the face of the “sweet science.”
On March 8, 1971, Frazier did what many had believed was impossible when he climbed into the squared circle and defeated “the greatest.” When Ali and Frazier met that night for the first of their 3 epic battles, both were undefeated, and Frazier-Ali I is rightly referred to as “The Fight of the Century.”
I was in Grade 6 at the time and remember that the fight was featured on a newfangled invention called “Pay Per View.” Despite my protestations, my parents prudently avoided this investment. Since they didn’t pay, I didn’t view!
Forty years later, there are still ageing American baby boomers who believe that Frazier-Ali I was the most important athletic event of their lives, and some point to Joe’s ferocious left hook in the 15th round, the punch that put Ali on the canvas for the first time in his career, as the most significant athletic moment.
(I’d argue that for Canadians this might be a very distant second, after the Summit Series. Something tells me that Paul Henderson’s goal might mean more than Joe’s left hook to most of my Canadian brethren, but then again, I’m not exactly Don Cherry!)
The story of Frazier’s post boxing life is as sad as it is familiar. Despite this, though, you can’t help but wonder if Smokin’ Joe were white, would there be a Rocky-like statue of him gracing the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art?