by Alex McIntyre | Mon. Dec. 5, 2011
In early 1971, Smokin' Joe Frazier stood on top of the boxing world. The Heavyweight Champion was twenty-seven years old, and at the absolute peak of his powers. However, having amassed a record of 27-0 with 23 knockouts, and defeating Muhammad Ali in "The Fight of the Century," Joe decided to take a step back from the pugilistic arts to concentrate on his musical talents. Frazier took to the road with his band The Smokin' Joe Musical Revue (who would later become Smokin' Joe and the Knockouts,) and toured Europe and the United States. He entertained the troops on a USO tour, and even found time to make an appearance on the Dean Martin Show.
The public were now clamoring for a rematch with Ali, but Frazier was standing firm. Ali would not be given a rematch and when Frazier did finally return to the ring to defend his titles it would be against the unheralded Terry Daniels, who he stopped in four. Ron Stander who fared slightly better four months later, survived until the fifth round. An offer of $4 million was tabled for a re-run of "The Fight," but Frazier turned it down. The champion decided to sign for $800,000 with fledgling promoters Video Techniques (who listed one Donald King as a director), to fight the number two ranked contender, "Big" George Foreman.
On January 22, 1973, Frazier would travel to Kingston, Jamaica to face the the murderous punching "Big" George Foreman. The winner of the 1968 Olympic Heavyweight title was an imposing colossus of a man, but back then Foreman's legend had yet to be made. Despite boasting an impressive record of 37-0 (33KO), the young Foreman had yet to be fully tested, and up until this point in time had never faced a man of Frazier's caliber. Not surprisingly, Frazier was installed as the 3-1 favorite, and he started the first round in sprightly fashion. Frazier bored straight into the challenger, tagging him with a series of left hooks. The big Texan seemed untroubled and retaliated with his customary wild looping hooks and hard right uppercuts, pushing the little man off to get full leverage on his shots. Midway through the first, Foreman landed a monstrous uppercut that stopped the onrushing Frazier in his tracks. As Frazier started to take a backwards step, Foreman caught him again and then followed one of the most famous calls in boxing broadcasting history. "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!"
With Frazier in serious trouble and backed against the ropes, Foreman unleashed the punch of the fight, a punch so savage, it looked like it might of taken Frazier's head clean off. Just how Frazier managed to rise and beat the count was a miracle in itself but there was more in store for the Champion, this was still only the first round and Foreman was still landing bombs. Frazier was dropped again and would only make it back to his corner by the skin of his teeth. For all intents and purposes this fight was over, but the bravery of Frazier showed no signs of abating. Frazier came out for round two and to the amazement of the pro-Foreman crowd, set about trying to claw his way back into the fight. The renaissance would last barely twenty seconds however, as Foreman had Frazier trapped in the corner and was now chopping him down. Frazier's legs buckled as he went down for the forth time. Foreman clubbed and bludgeoned the helpless Frazier now, bouncing him all over the ring until referee Arthur Mercante stepped in to stop the slaughter. Down six times in all, Smokin' Joe Frazier had been utterly destroyed in one of the most shocking displays of raw power ever witnessed in a prize fight.
Frazier would return to the ring six months later to record a 12 round points victory over former European champion Joe Bugner, but his quest to force a rematch with Foreman to regain his titles would have to go through the number one contender Muhammad Ali. The fight was set for January 28, 1974 at Madison Square Garden, and once again things would turn ugly in the build up. The two appeared on ABC's Wide World of Sports, where Ali again taunted Frazier calling him 'dumb' and 'ignorant' in an argument that would end with the two wrestling on the studio floor.
While the animosity and hatred between the two outside the ring was unequivocal, the action inside the ropes was a slightly more muted affair. The rematch lacked the intensity of the first fight, as Ali danced, jabbed and held Frazier, limiting his effectiveness on the inside. Midway through the sixth round, the fight briefly came to life with both fighters trading hooks at close quarters, but normal service was soon resumed. Ali was once again dancing and shuffling around Frazier, scoring with crisp jabs and flashy combination punches. Whenever Frazier would get too close, Ali would simply tie him up, much to the dismay of Frazier's corner, who were furious with referee Tony Perez's handling of the fight.
Frazier finally nailed Ali with the left hook in the seventh round, and followed it up by chasing Ali into the corner and ripping in another for good measure. Staying on his man, Frazier was connecting with hooks, shoulders and the occasional wayward head now as he continued his assault. Frazier would have only sporadic success against Ali's jab and grab tactics as the fight wore on though, and going into the twelfth and final round Ali was in the ascendancy. With Angelo Dundee screaming "Beat him, Beat him Muhammad, God damn it," Ali took to the back foot and tried to pick off Frazier with one-twos and the occasional flurry, while Frazier landed perhaps the more significantly heavier punches to make the last round a pick 'em.
When the unanimous decision was announced in Ali's favour, Frazier simply said, "I threw more effective punches but i got no argument about nothing."
The fight was described by Howard Cosell as, "A bout between two past champions that was lacking much of the excitement of the prior fight," but little did anybody know that just around the corner lay perhaps the greatest fight of all.
Frazier would go on to rematch both Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis, stopping both before being offered a shot at redemption in the form of a rubber match against Ali. For the third installment of Ali vs. Frazier, the world championship would be on the line after it exchanged hands in the most dramatic of circumstances in Kinshasa, Zaire. Muhammad Ali had once again shocked the world by knocking out George Foreman in the legendary "Rumble in the Jungle," and was now the two-time Heavyweight champion. President Ferdinand Marcos of the The Philippines offered to stage the fight at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Manila, and when Ali uttered the now immortal lines "It's gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the Gorilla in Manila," the fight took on it's mythical status before a punch was even thrown.
As had been the case with the two previous fights, Ali was cruel and spiteful towards Frazier throughout the build up. Frazier's children were being targeted and called 'gorillas' in the schoolyard, and there were police officers guarding Frazier's home after threats to blow-up his house. All lines of human decency had been well and truly crossed by Ali, and while the champion was play acting for the cameras with small rubber gorilla dolls, Frazier was all business as he left the city and headed for the surrounding countryside of Manila to plot his revenge.
At 10.45 local time, on October 1st, 1975, the two fighters entered the ring. With temperatures already soaring into triple digits, the steamy arena was a cacophony of sound as the local fight fans roared on their chosen favorite and underdog, Smokin' Joe Frazier. As the bell rang for the opening round, Ali met Frazier in the center of the ring and at once began to take the fight to the challenger. Believing that Joe was past his best, Ali set a furious pace, catching Frazier with combinations, hooks and straight right-hands that had malice on every painful shot. He intended to take out Frazier within six rounds and took the opening rounds decisively. In the third round, Ali lay on the ropes to conserve energy while Frazier banged away to the body. Bursting into life towards the end of the round with a barrage of rapid fire lefts and rights, Ali stole the round and edged the fourth in similar fashion. By round five, both seemed to tire but Frazier was more productive as Ali started to miss. Going into round six, Frazier was getting into gear as he stalked the champion relentlessly, smashing home brutal body shots and damaging hooks that sent the champion into retreat. This was now vintage Frazier, bobbing, weaving and walking through anything that Ali could throw at him.
Ali tried to recover some of his lost momentum in round eight but the harder more hurtful punches were coming from Frazier, who seemed oblivious to Ali's attacks. The two traded hook for hook as they went to war momentarily, but once again the round ended with Frazier on top and Ali backed into his corner. The action was now swinging back and forth with each fighter finding varying degrees of success. In round eleven, Frazier pinned Ali in the corner and worked the body mercilessly, Ali tried to pick up the pace with a last minute flurry but his body seemed to fail him and Frazier again took another round on his incredible work rate. The thirteenth round proved to be pivotal as the tide began to swing in Ali's favour. Frazier's eyes were now badly swollen and beginning to close, He couldn't see the punches and Ali landed blow after blow, rocking the challenger for the first time in the fight and knocking his mouthpiece into press row. There then followed perhaps the most brutal and savage round of boxing in history. In the fourteenth round, with Frazier fighting essentially as a blind man, Ali teed off on Frazier. The ever-gallant warrior continued to walk forward absorbing the most sickening punishment a man could take.
As the bell rang to end the round, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch could take no more. The savagery of the beating his man sustained was too much to bare. Fearful he might witness his fighter's death if he sent him out for another round, he told Frazier he was going to stop the fight.
Frazier pleaded with Futch "Don't stop this f*cking fight, Don't you stop this motherf*cking fight."
A calmer head had to prevail and with the most ironic of sentences Futch stopped the fight.
"Sit down son, It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today," Futch told Frazier.
With that the most storied trilogy in boxing history was brought to a close. It had all started with "The Fight of the Century" and ended with "The Thrilla in Manila," the greatest heavyweight fight of all-time.
Frazier would go on to fight George Foreman in a rematch 8 months later, once again to be stopped by the "Big," Texan. He entered the ring again after a period of 5 years outside the ropes to fight a majority draw against Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings, but it is for his trilogy with Muhammad Ali that he will be most remembered.
An all-time great heavyweight who fought in an all-time great era. With a heart of a lion and a left-hook that could remove all senses from a man, he was a true boxing legend. God bless you Joe, your smoke will never clear.
R.I.P. Smokin' Joe Frazier 1944 - 2011
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