The Death of a Boxer

by M-Gillies

Joe Frazier (center) was presented with the Daily News Front Page Award by The New York Daily News earlier this year.

“The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.” – Cassius “Muhammad Ali” Clay, Jr.

Madison Square Garden was busting with a pandemonium of activity. Police patrolled the area and controlled the circus-like frenzy of the crowd, some who were dressed outrageously. It was 1971 and it was the place to be. Countless celebrities from Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Peter Falk and Frank Sinatra were in attendance. But the crowds didn’t flock for them.

Around the world interest swelled for what was known as the “Fight of the Century.” Crowds swarmed closed-circuit locations across the country. In New York, 6,000 fans arrived at the Radio City Music Hall to watch the fight in color, 5,500 found their haven at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The streets of Buenos Aires were deserted, Londoners refused to sleep waiting until 4:40 am for the fight to be broadcast. On TVs in hotels, bars and nightclubs, French, Swiss, Germans and Austrians eagerly watched in heightened anticipation while schools in Manila were suspended for the duration of the fight

In the end, it was estimated that 300 million people had tuned in to watch the two undefeated Heavyweight Champions, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali dual for the legitimate title as the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

It started in 1967 to 1970. Frazier had gone through the top heavyweights in the world. He prevailed against Buster Mathis and dominated Jimmy Ellis after five rounds. He had captured a piece of the heavyweight championship for the first time and cultivated a universal recognition as a World Heavyweight Champion, but fans wouldn’t see it that way, and Frazier knew it. Until he had the name Muhammed Ali under his win column, Frazier knew he would never be accepted as the real champ.

It had been forty-seven months prior to the fight with the man known as “Smokin” Joe Frazier, that Ali had been stripped of his undisputed title and exiled from the world of professional boxing for his refusal of induction into the United States Army. The man recognized for his swift movements and his stinging punches had just made his ninth successful title defense against Zora Folley on March 22, 1967, giving him a boxing record of 29-0 at the age of 25.

On December 30, 1970 Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali signed on to face each other for the undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World.

In the build up to the fight, a vicious feud was formed between the two men as Ali taunted Frazier with controversial remarks. Whether Ali had been joking or marketing a feud to further publicize the event, Frazier never found it funny. The words, the taunts, the remarks remained a blemish that marred Frazier’s outlook toward Ali and further fuelled his desire to come out victorious.

On the much anticipated night of March 8, 1971, the fight proved to exceed even the promotional hype. What started as a close fight for the two men ended with a final victory for Frazier, landing a crushing defeat for Ali, who would not win another world title for the next three years. While the match showed Frazier’s greatest athletic performance ever seen under the ceiling of Madison Square Garden, both men had to recuperate in the hospital, leading to a rumor that Frazier had died. When the tale circulated to Ali, he vowed to retire from boxing if the rumors proved to be true.

From that day on, the two men would meet again in two follow-up matches. Having seen defeat in the Ali-Frazier II match, Frazier once again stepped into the ring with Ali. In what became a terse and heated battle between the two men, which saw both Ali and Frazier bruised, bloodied and swollen, the “Thrilla in Manila” came to an end when despite Frazier’s pleas to continue, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch stopped the fight saying “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today.”

Unbeknownst to Frazier, Ali had instructed his trainer to cut his gloves off, later saying “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight anymore.”

In spite of the controversial taunting caused by Ali, he stated, “Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him. He is the greatest fighter of all times, next to me.”

Born January 12, 1944, Joseph William “Joe” Frazier rose to the ranks of international stardom as a legend who stepped out of the long shadow cast by Ali. With a record of 32 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw, Frazier held a record of 73% wins. For the next four decades after his historical battle with Ali in 1971, Frazier would continue to train boxers and make media appearances. By 2009, after years of remaining bitter toward Ali, Frazier told “Sports Illustrated” he no longer held hard feelings for his on again, off again nemesis.

In late September 2011, Frazier was diagnosed with liver cancer which metastasized within a few weeks. After going into hospice care in November, Frazier died on November 7th, 2011.

Since the announcement of his passing Monday night, Frazier’s death has touched not only the hearts of millions but also that of deep admirer of the sport’s history and unbeaten world welterweight champion, Floyd Mayweather Jr., who late Tuesday wrote on his Twitter, “My condolences go out to the family of the late great Joe Frazier. “TheMoneyTeam will pay for his Funeral services,” a gesture which Mayweather committed to before when he paid for the funeral of one-time opponent, former world champion Genaro Hernandez.

Joe Frazier Website

Smokin’ Joe Frazier Biography

Floyd Mayweather offers to pay for Joe Frazier’s funeral

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