Joe Frazier's Fight for Greatness
The boxing hero's relentless style and epic left hook commanded respect -- and made Ali a legend.
It would become one of the most memorable athletic event of the 20th century. And it was the famous 15th round that made it legendary. Approximately 20 seconds into the round, Frazier threw the most famous punch of our time, a left hook that put Ali on the mat. And while Frazier won the fight, they both ended up in the hospital; rumors circulated that Frazier had died. Ali later said he would have retired if it were true.
After the first fight with Ali, Frazier would never be quite the same. Two years later Frazier lost the heavyweight championship when he was knocked out by George Foreman. Yet he fought on, beating Joe Bugner, while losing a rematch to Ali and beating Quarry and Ellis again.
His last fight for the heavyweight title would come against -- who else -- Ali at the Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines on Oct. 1, 1975.
The "Thrilla in Manila" is considered by many to be the most famous boxing match between the two and is ranked as one of the greatest fights of the 20th century. It was the apex of two great careers. It linked the two of them together, forever.
After a second loss to Foreman in 1976, Frazier called it quits. And while the International Boxing Research Organization rates Frazier among the 10 greatest heavyweights of all time, I beg to differ. To me he's second only to Ali because of what they meant not only to boxing but also to America and the world.
Frazier's relentless style will forever be missed. He was known for leading with his head. He had a way of getting inside and ripping a boxer to shreds.
When someone's in the world, especially someone as great as Frazier, it's as if they never age. Somehow we have this way of thinking they will live on forever. Maybe it was because he was only 67. Maybe it's because of who he was. I don't know.
But I do know he's a part of what made black men feel proud of who they are. I say this because, while Ali gave us brashness and bravado, Frazier gave us a workmanlike attitude and still won. He showed us that it's OK for us to come in many shades, sizes and colors and still be satisfied with who we are.
Eventually Ali articulated regret for the way he taunted Frazier -- the way he called him a gorilla and mocked him as an Uncle Tom. In Thomas Hauser's 1991 biography, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, Ali said, "I'm sorry Joe Frazier is mad at me. I'm sorry I hurt him. Joe Frazier is a good man. I couldn't have done what I did without him, and he couldn't have done what he did without me."
Zack Burgess is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.