Joe Frazier, the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1968-73, compiled a 32-4-1 career record, with 27 knockouts; his only losses were to Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (twice each), while his lone draw came in his last bout at the age of 37. Frazier will always be remembered for his trilogy of fights with Ali, winning the first battle--dubbed "The Fight of the Century"--on March 8, 1971 to retain his Heavyweight crown and then losing epic rematches in 1974 and in 1975, the famous "Thrilla in Manila."
Ali taunted Frazier relentlessly, calling him a "gorilla" and saying that he was too ugly to be the champion. While fans may have found the banter entertaining, Frazier took Ali's words to heart and the wounds are still fresh even decades later. After Ali lit the torch at the 1996 Olympics, Frazier--the 1964 Olympic gold medalist--said, "I should have been picked. I wish Ali had fallen into (the flame). If I had the chance, I'd have pushed him in." Frazier told Ali biographer Thomas Hauser, "I don't like him but I got to say, in the ring he was a man...He shook me in Manila; he won. But I sent him home worse than he came. Look at him now. He's damaged goods. I know it; you know it. Everyone knows it...He was always making fun of me. I'm the dummy; I'm the one getting hit in the head. Tell me now, him or me; which one talks worse now?"
Another source of bitterness for Frazier is that Philadelphia, the city where he lives and where he trained many fighters, erected a statue to honor the fictional Rocky Balboa but has yet to put one up in his honor.
A car accident in 2002 injured Frazier's spine and made him wheelchair bound for a time but now he walks with a cane. His fighting style consisted of going forward relentlessly, always attacking, and it is that indomitable spirit that keeps him going despite his injuries and the deaths of two of his brothers earlier this month.
Frazier was this week's guest analyst on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" as part of "Hall of Fame Month" and he fired off some pithy, entertaining commentary. The show kicked off with host Brian Kenny introducing Frazier as the owner of the greatest left hook in the sport's history and Frazier responding with a bit of Ali-like rhyming, telling host Brian Kenny, "Hey B, sharp as a razor...I'm 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier!"
After Chris Avalos knocked out Christian Cruz in the first round, Frazier explained why Cruz lost so quickly: "You're not going to (be able to) hit coming from the back (foot) to the front. Instead, you should be there, be ready to BAM, BAM, BAM!" Frazier punched into the air for emphasis. Throughout the telecast he made the point that a lot of today's fighters are not being taught and trained as well as fighters used to be.
The early conclusion of that fight left plenty of time to show some highlights from some of Frazier's bouts, including his March 3, 1968 knockout of Buster Mathis. Frazier recalled telling Mathis, "You got your lunch? You're going to need it." Frazier replaced an injured Mathis on the 1964 Olympic team, so this was a grudge match of sorts. That victory enabled Frazier to claim the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship awarded by the New York State Athletic Commission. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his crown because he refused to be inducted into the army; in 1970, Frazier beat Jimmy Ellis to capture the WBA and WBC championships, belts that he retained by beating Ali in 1971. Kenny and Frazier also talked about some of Frazier's 1968 title defenses, including a unanimous decision against Oscar Bonavena, who Frazier called a "tough guy...the more I hit him, the tougher he got."
In the next FNF bout, Antwone Smith knocked out Juan Novoa in the fourth round. Frazier commented, "Both guys were wild, throwing shots from left field, right field, with no protection at all...Their legs were too wide to get off combination shots. There are a lot of little things that need to be straightened out with guys in boxing."
On the other hand, Frazier liked what he saw in some classic FNF footage of the "Nigerian Nightmare," Sam Page, who went 5-0 with 5 knockouts in his FNF appearances. "He came out throwing the punches the right way," Frazier said. "Once you get a guy in trouble, get him hurt, continue throwing punches at him. Don't stop and let the referee stop it."
If you blinked, you missed the next FNF contest, a middleweight match between Julio "Baby Face" Garcia and Jose Medina. Garcia ducked a Medina punch and knocked Medina out with a left hook after just 13 seconds. It was not Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" but rather "knocked out cold Medina." Kenny asked Frazier, "What did you think of that fight?" Frazier chuckled and replied, "What fight? That guy got paid to come in and take a bow. That wasn't a fight. He came up to get paid. That means one guy worked harder than the other guy because he knows he has to fight." Frazier quipped that Medina spent more time on his tattoos (of which there were several) than his training.
Speaking of training, Kenny and Frazier then reminisced about the glory days of Frazier's gym in Philadelphia. Kenny noted that Dwight Muhammad Qawi, a previous FNF guest analyst who won world titles in the Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight divisions, had said that training in Frazier's gym was like "going to school" because there were so many people there from whom one could really learn the ins and outs of the fight game.
Frazier said, "Philadelphia guys take more pride in their job. They come to the gym daily and make sure that they get the right, proper timing inside the gym. The majority of the guys who work in the gym in Philadelphia have been in that ring before and they know that what they are telling their guy is right. All they (the fighters) have to do is follow the instructions."
FNF concluded with a 10 round split decision victory for Breidis Prescott over Richard Abril in a battle between two previously unbeaten lightweights. The fight was pretty even and not particularly exciting, the only real drama being that one judge scored it 95-94 for Prescott, one judge had it 95-94 for Abril but the third judge inexplicably came up with a 97-92 verdict in favor of Prescott. Since Prescott was penalized one point for a low blow, that meant that the third judge thought Prescott had won the fight eight rounds to two, which ESPN2 commentator Teddy Atlas said was "ridiculous." Atlas had Abril as a one point winner; Atlas added that a close decision in favor of Prescott was reasonable but a five point margin made him wonder what the judge was watching and what kind of training he had received.
That fight certainly did not impress Frazier, who told Kenny, "Call it a draw and come back when you are ready to fight. From what I saw, I'd call it a no-contest. Neither one of those guys threw a punch to hurt the other guy. The referee (kept) breaking(ing) it up all night long, so how could it be a good fight?" Kenny replied, "I have no argument with you, sir."
While Prescott-Abril was a dud, Frazier at his best certainly was not, as this video shows: