By Sam Geraci
Much of what has been written and said about Joe Frazier in the hours and days following his death has focused on his negative view of Muhammad Ali and his role in the greatest sports rivalry of our time: The trilogy between him and Ali. While many of those pieces accurately highlight Frazier’s importance to boxing and the trilogy’s impact on race relations in American society, what most pieces have failed to touch upon, is what Frazier symbolized for many of us.
Everything about Frazier’s boxing career speaks to the belief in the American Spirit: The unsupportable and completely illogical belief that through self reliance and relentless effort one can rise from the farms of Beaufort, South Carolina in the 1950’s to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world.
Like some Steinbeckian character pulled from the Joad family, Frazier’s career was molded by a sick irony: his best punch as a fighter (the left hook) was a result of a permanently crooked left arm that was created at the age of fifteen from an accident with an ox. In addition to the crooked left arm, when compared to the other heavyweights in that era, which is considered to be the “Golden Era” of heavyweights, Frazier was a slow, undersized, and under skilled fighter who was partially blind due to a sparring accident in the mid 1960s.
Despite his physical disadvantages, Frazier fought many of the top heavyweights of his era and defeated most of them with the belief that he could take three or four of their punches to every one of his landed so long as he could make his shots count.
On March 8, 1971, in the “Fight of the Century,” Frazier made his shots count as he defeated Ali, the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.
In that fight, Frazier became the American Spirit that we read about and hope to embody. He took on his bully, who was bigger, stronger, faster, and more eloquent, and through his self reliance and relentless effort came as close to dominating him as anyone at that time could ever have done.
Frazier’s body was never the same after that fight, and with the exception of the third fight with Ali, Frazier never looked impressive. Despite his decline, each of Frazier’s performances still inspired (especially the beating he took at the hands of George Foreman).
Although Frazier did not possess the fame or eloquence of his chief rivals, Ali and Foreman, his story should not be inaccurately reduced to that of an embittered man who served as a foil to Ali in a legendary trilogy. Instead, Frazier’s story should be celebrated for what it is: The embodiment of the American Spirit.
Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who was sharp as a razor, rose from nothing to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world who defeated the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.