- Monday, November 7, 2011 5:27 PM
- Written By: Harry Parmenter
I remember listening to the first Frazier-Ali fight on the radio when I was a kid. Since it was shown on closed-circuit TV, the radio broadcast wasn't live but a recreation, round by round, blow by blow, from some nameless announcer no doubt watching a feed from MSG and reporting slightly after the fact.
For some reason I never liked Ali. Too cocky. Everybody's darling. But mainly, untouchable.
Then there was Frazier. "Human hamburger" in Hunter Thompson's words. Nobody's favorite. A true working class hero from the mean streets of Philly. Inarticulate. Blocky. All he did was slug it out.
Always with a chip on his shoulder. Always punching. Never knocked off his block.
Despite Howard Cosell's obvious bias toward Ali, there was something about the way he enunciated "Smokin' Joe Frazier!" that gave me a thrill. The guy was a true fighter, a competitor, a human hamburger all right -- medium rare.
Those were the golden days of boxing, when "And now the heavyweight champion of the world!" meant something. Now it's over. I couldn't tell you who holds that title now.
Then it was Ali, Frazier and George Foreman. And even with guys who didn't hold the title -- Teofilo Stevenson and the punching bags Jerry Quarry, Gerry Cooney, Duane Bobick -- the sport meant something then.
Never glamorous, never a media darling, Joe Frazier simply put his life on the life every time out in the ring, leading with his chin and a monster left hook. Salieri to Ali's Mozart he was unpoetic, unflinching, uncompromising.
For his heart to stop and his dying means we all will die (obviously) but I mean it in the grand scheme of things. He was a punishing unstoppable force in his day, withstanding abuse and the brutality of great fighters as he dug in, took it and dished it out.
Boxing peaked with him and Ali. It hasn't been the same since but perhaps will be some day.
He was in a class with Pete Rose, Jim Brown, Charles Oakley, Wayne Cashman. Tough guys who just ran over you without the style, grace and elan of the ruling class.
A true giant of our sporting times, Joe Frazier deserves every accolade that can be bestowed on a consummate fighter.
Sleep well, Smokin' Joe.