Nov 9, 2011

Left Hook

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.

RIP, Joe.
source: NY Times


Slyde said...

i was always an ali guy too, but even then i remember thinking that how ALi acted was quite mean, especially towards someone like Frazier, who really didnt speak very well and couldnt verbally defend himself at all..

white rabbit said...

I was a Frasier guy for the reasons you give for your shift in attitude.

Uh Huh

Verdant Earl said...

Slyde - Frazier was also confused as to where all this animosity was coming from. From a personal side, that is. He understood the "game" that was Ali's persona. He just took it too far.

Wabbit - Yeah, seems like a given now. But the charm of Ali was/is tough to deny.

hello haha narf said...

rest in peace, smokin joe.

Water Logged Canine said...

Excellent piece. Nice.

Heff said...

You may find this as a SHOCK, but Heff thinks Ali SUCKED.

No matter HOW INJURED Frazier got, he'd STILL KEEP COMIN' AT YA !!

Ali was one of the most BORING fighters to watch that I ever witnessed...BLOCK, THROW A PUNCH, RUN ! BLOCK, THROW A PUNCH, RUN !!!

He was good at what he did, but NO FUN to watch his fights, that's for damn sure.

Verdant Earl said...

Becky - Amen.

Doggie - Grassy Ass.

Heff - Yeah, I think the kid in me was more impressed with his clowning and his sometimes brilliant tactics. Rope-a-dope was frustrating and boring as hell, but it fucking worked against Foreman. And that's AFTER his first strategy (the straight rights) in the first round didn't work. Well, they worked in that they pissed big George off. I think Ali was the most talented Heavyweight of all-time, with that great jab, tremendous right and his ability to take a punch. But he often fought down to the level of his opponent which led to some very boring fights.

Heff said...


Paticus said...

Never much of a boxing fan myself...Though I liked both of these guys...the only boxing anecdote I have to share is that once I was coming down from an acid trip, and my Dad was watching a Tyson fight on the tee vee, and I kept flinching whenever Tyson would hit the guy.Very weird.
R.I.P. Joe Frazier, I loved you on the Simpsons.

sybil law said...

RIP, Joe Frazier.
My dad always watched boxing and liked him. Funny, because of course as you said, Ali stuck in my head, but my dad always liked Joe. Totally get it, now.

Verdant Earl said...

Paticus - Flinching when Tyson hit a guy is an acceptable response, even if you aren't on an acid trip. He was a beast.

Sybil - I didn't really get into it, but white fans (back in the day) supposedly preferred Frazier to Ali. Because Ali was, ahem, outspoken. Yeah...that's probably not the word some of those white fans would have used back then. But you catch my drift.

RW said...

It was the golden age. I still favored Ali (and still do) no matter what, but it was easy to see that Smokin' Joe was as good as anybody of his era. I was a big boxing fan in those days. There doesn't seem to be anywhere near the style and importance of those days in boxing now. I used to know all the names and was raised watching the Friday Night Fights brought to you by Gilette from Madison Square Garden. "Here we are in the 13th round, the hard luck round. We're at Madison Square Garden. You know the boys."

Boxing now seems like a weak half sister of those classic days. And the all-out stuff where guys are kicking and screwing each other on the mat while pounding each other in the head (yeah I know, a different sport but you get what I mean) is just unwatchable.

All things must pass. And the heat and emotion of those days was part of the entertainment. I hope I'm not just an old man pining for the good old days. I think I have a point though.

Verdant Earl said...

RW - Ali tried to apologize for his words, but Frazier wasn't listening. Can't say I blame him. But he also said that if he wasn't the greatest boxer of all-time, then it was Frazier. Followed, of course, by "but I AM THE GREATEST!". The middle-weights and welterweights had their time in the 80's with Sugar, Duran, Hitman and Hagler. Those were great days to be a boxing fan. And just like I gravitated eventually toward Frazier (who couldn't come close to beating Foreman and who lost to Ali twice), I eventually became of fan of Thomas Hearns over those other guys. Especially Sugar, who had been a favorite when I was younger. Hearns couldn't beat Sugar either time they fought, although was easily the better fighter in at least one of them. Maybe both. He also couldn't beat Hagler in maybe the best three rounds you will ever see. And he REALLY couldn't figure Iran Barkley out. But he did beat Duran (Duran fought Hearns 7 months after losing to Hagler. Can you imagine?), and Duran was really good. I dunno. I dig the Hitman. What was all this about? Oh yeah...and old man (me) pining for the good old days. Le sigh.

marty mankins said...

Damn, this was a sports figure loss, that's for sure. Between Frazier and Ali, they were some of the boxing greats that dominated when I was growing up.

RIP Joe Frazier

Verdant Earl said...

Marty - Absolutely.

Dr Zibbs said...

I met him once in Philly at a bar and he was super friendly.