In the 70's, if you were a boxing fan, you were either a Muhammad Ali guy or a Joe Frazier guy. It was that simple. I was only a kid watching the replays of their titanic battles on Saturday afternoons on Wide World of Sports on ABC, but even I knew that. I was an Ali guy. The big, bold personality. The slick as lightning footwork. The flair, the drama...everything. Muhammad Ali was bigger than life, and Frazier was a hard-working pug with a tremendous left hook. Ugly to watch, but efficient as a bulldozer. The man never floated like a butterfly in his entire life.
But, as I got older and I became more aware of the everything that went down before and during these fights, I've become more of a Frazier guy. I'm sure he was no angel either, but the verbal abuse handed out by Ali against Frazier in that time now seems incredibly over the top and offensive. Calling him an "Uncle Tom" before their first epic battle. Then calling him "The Gorilla" before their third fight in the Philippines because it rhymed nicely with "Manila". These were things that hurt Frazier down deep for the rest of his life. And coming from a man who he respected and helped, both financially and otherwise, during the time he was stripped of his title in the late 60's. It was disgusting.
There was a social and political aspect behind these fights as well. Ali represented the younger folks. He refused to serve in Vietnam, and lost the Heavyweight title along the way because of it. He was hip, fun and socially relevant. Frazier wasn't any of those things. But he really wasn't the opposite either, as the media and Ali suggested. He just wasn't...Ali.
And then there was Frazier's boxing style, which I characterized earlier as "ugly to watch". Except it really wasn't. It was actually quite amazing. Head down, always moving forward, punches coming from everywhere, never backing down, smothering his opponent with his aggression. Mike Tyson had a little bit of that in him. Except that Frazier also had the wonderful left hook. One of the best weapons I've ever seen from a fighter. Quick and mean, full of bad intentions. It was a crippling blow that seemingly came out of nowhere.
I've still got a lot of love for boxing, especially the Heavyweights in the 70's like Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers, George Foreman and, of course, Ali and Frazier. But I also recognize it as a brutal, unnecessary sport that essentially kills these men before their times. Quite the conundrum, as some would say.
All that being said, I was much more saddened at the death of Joe Frazier earlier this week than I really expected. It was an odd left hook to the soul that I didn't see coming, naturally.
|source: NY Times|