“Smokin’” Joe Frazier died this past Monday of liver cancer at the age of 67. It is sort of eerie considering that I just posted an article about George Bellows’ boxing studies earlier this week.
Frazier was both an Olympic Gold Medalist and the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion from 1970-72. He will be remembered for his epic battles with Ali and Foreman in the early 70′s. If you haven’t seen Frazier fight, do yourself a favor and watch him defend his title against Ali in “The Fight Of The Century,” on March 8th, 1971 at Madison Square Garden (in five parts below). Keep in mind while watching that both men were going in to this fight with undefeated professional records as Ali was stripped of his title and suspended from boxing for three years.
And to think they fought twice more after this, though never recreating the action of the first bout. If you take a look at the post I did on George Bellows, you can see some of the same violent clashes in this fight.
Frazier retired in1976 after a second loss to George Foreman (he had one comeback fight in 1981). He owned and managed a boxing gym in Philly for the remainder of his life. When Frazier’s nemesis, Muhummad Ali, heard of his untimely death he said, “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.” I will too.
In 1995, my parents were eating at a restaurant in Atlantic City. My father noticed that Smokin’ Joe was sitting at a table a few feet away. He humbly asked Frazier for a signature (for me). My father says that shaking his hand was like shaking a catcher’s mit. In any event, I have a bar napkin signed by Smokin’ Joe at the bottom of my father’s sock drawer. I’m lucky. He was a great fighter.