PROFESSOR MARBRY ON THE MUHAMMAD ALI-JOE FRAZIER TRILOGY
Charlotte, NC– Every fighter needs another fighter to bring out the best in them. For Joe Frazier, it was, in his words, “Clay. “(Cassius Clay was Muhammad Ali’s birth name before he embraced Islam. At first, Frazier refused to call Ali by his Muslim name) In Joe Frazier’s autobiography, the buildup to Frazier-Ali I, Frazier said, “That god damned Clay [was]-a nonstop self-promoter. The sucker had fifty-seven varieties of bullshit-and he needed it all” to get back into boxing after being stripped of both his title and his license after refusing induction into the Army.
PROFESSOR, LIKE ALI TO JOE, NOT KIND!
Here’s what many people do not know about Muhammad Ali; he is the one who grew up in more of a middle class America, both parents at home, working, middle class home, picket fence, the American dream. At least as much of the American dream as possible for people of color in America at that time. A loving family. Frazier, born in the Deep South, in Beaufort, SC, (that’s BYOU-fert, for those of you outside the South), raised on a farm, poor, picking radishes for twenty five cents a crate, having to eke out a living off the land. Hard people, loving family, but barely making ends meet.
JOE OFFERED ALI A HELPING HAND
While Ali was “exiled” from boxing, it was Frazier who approached Ali, trying to help him out financially, and trying to convince the powers that be to allow Ali to fight. Eventually Ali was allowed to fight, his sentences for refusal induction to military service overturned by the Supreme Court, and a fight was made with Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, which a rusty Ali won in round three. Quarry was stopped on cuts. In the meantime, Frazier beat Bob Foster, one of the greatest light heavyweights ever in two rounds. In fact, Foster was knocked so loopy that after the fight, back in the dressing room, Foster was trying to put his boxing shoes back on, and when asked what he was doing, Foster replied, “Got to go fight Frazier!” Foster didn’t even remember the fight!
BONAVENA WAS ALI’S SECOND COMEBACK FOE
Ali gets another fight, this time with the granite-jawed Argentine Oscar Bonavena, and Ali finally stops him in the 15th round. Now the stage is set for the battle of the unbeatens; Frazier-Ali I. Now history has recorded, and every casual fight fan knows that Ali had the gift of gab, much of that he emulated from pro wrestler Gorgeous George, and Ali did it to promote the gate and sell more tickets. Speaking of Joe Frazier and his nick name ‘Smokin’ Joe, Ali quipped, “I’ll be pecking and poking, I’ll be pouring water on Joe’s Smokin’.“ “I don’t care if they love me or hate me, as long as they pay to see me,” Ali once said. But another thing that many people don’t know, or don’t want to admit, is that hidden in that gift of gab was a bit of a mean streak. Yes, it was disguised as “promoting the gate” but it was a bit of a mean streak nonetheless, and it came out clearly in all three fights with Frazier. The barrage of name calling by Ali went way beyond promoting the gate, as can be seen by Ali calling Frazier an “Uncle Tom.” In fact, the fact that a lighter skinned black man ( who grew up more middle class ) was calling a much darker skinned black man ( who grew up much poorer ) “Uncle Tom” would have been laughable if there had not been so much vitriol and meanness behind it.
ALL THREE FIGHTS WERE MEGA-EVENTS
Frazier and Ali had three fights. Frazier won the first one hands down, knocking Ali down in the 15th round. Frazier-Ali II went to the score cards; the judges scored it by rounds 8-4; 7-4-1; 6-5-1; all for Ali. However, Referee Tony Perez warned Ali 150, that’s no typo, 150 times for Ali holding behind the head, with no point’s deduction and Red Smith, Sports Writer from the New York Times scored the fight 6-5-1 for Frazier, and Yours Truly, after watching that fight dozens of times still scores that fight 7-6 Frazier. It should also be noted that Ali seemingly had Joe on the verge of being KO’d when Perez stopped the second round 15 seconds too early. After some confusion, Frazier had recovered and the round was finished.
THIRD FIGHT WAS A “CLOSE TO DEATH” BATTLE
And of course, there is the famous “Thrilla-in Manila,” the third and most career defining bout between these two pugilists. Ali was winning the early rounds, Frazier dominating the middle rounds until the tenth, when he began to slow down. In round 14, Frazier, almost blinded from the swelling over g=his eye, Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer since Yank Durham passed, decides to stop the fight to protect his fighter. Ali said, “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight any more.” Ali later would claim “This was the closest to dying I have ever been!”
NO BULL S*IT WHEN JOE FRAZIER FOUGHT
Smokin’ Joe had a style that was tailor made for both his mental and physical make up. Yank Durham, his trainer until his death, didn’t fool much with the raw mechanics of what Frazier had, rather Durham worked on smoothing out the flaws to use what Joe had naturally. To overcome his lack of height and reach, Joe needed to learn to get in close to an opponent without getting caught by jabs and straight rights from a taller fighter. So Frazier learned to slip punches (a lost art today) move his head and shoulders sideways to avoid punches as he moved in ( James Toney was good at this, as is Bernard Hopkins), and bending at the knees, bobbing and weaving, slipping and sliding, presenting a moving target as he fired his own punches. The thing was, with Frazier, his offense was his defense. Hence the name “Smokin’ Joe. The whole idea was that when Joe was hammering on an opponent, throwing punches nonstop, the opponent had his hands full trying to defend himself.
FRAZIER’S STYLE EMULATED BOTH THAT OF “HAMMERIN’ HANK” & MARCIANO
And that wasn’t anything novel. Rocky Marciano and Henry Armstrong had used the same type style with great success years before. Yet here’s the thing with Frazier; you knew what was coming. Nothing was going to change, he was coming in bobbing and weaving, throwing those left hook bombs, and only one or two ever stopped him. And it wasn’t “pecking and poking” that eventually poured water on Joe’s Smokin. It was Father Time. And Father Time is what eventually gets us all…
Professor Chuck Marbry