Did Muhammad Ali ever beat Joe Frazier?

Sports : Champion for the ages

Joe Frazier, my god. If Ali didn't exist, he would be the greatest. Only through Frazier did Ali become what he became - "The Greatest". Joe Frazier can boast of having boxed Ali three times and thus marked the most popular and spectacular era of boxing ever. Frazier was the first to put Ali on the boards, and he was the first to inflict the first defeat on Ali in the "Fight of the Century" and thus destroy his myth. In the middle of the Ali era, Joe Frazier held the most important of all titles for three years.

There are few boxers who become legends through their fights. Joe Frazier is one of them. Now he's dead. Died of liver cancer five weeks after diagnosis. "The world has lost a great champion," says the sick Muhammad Ali. "I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration."

The careers of both exceptional boxers are miraculously intertwined. Ali's fame is unthinkable without Frazier. Two of her three fights are among the five best fights of all time. Both the first duel in 1971 and the third duel, that "Thrilla of Manila" from 1975, a word created by Ali, have become classics that radiate far beyond boxing. “They weren't fights, they were epochal events,” says Wilfried Sauerland, who, like Ali and Frazier, is accepted into the “Boxing Hall of Fame”. The German promoter and manager, who has been staging fights around the world since the Ali Frazier era, remembers: “When I think about how millions of Germans got up at four in the morning to watch these fights on television, then that touches me today. Just as the death of Frazier will affect many people. "

Joe Frazier grew up in rural South Carolina as the youngest of 13 children. The Fraziers don't have much. Most importantly, they don't have much to lose. When Joe was 15 years old, the Fraziers moved to New York, a little later to Philadelphia. Young Joe's boxing career begins here. He works as a packer in a slaughterhouse. In order to get in shape as a budding boxer, he repeatedly beats beef halves in the slaughterhouse. Hollywood will incorporate this eccentric exercise as a sequence in Sylvester Stallone's award-winning boxer epic "Rocky," in which Frazier will guest star. Occasionally he marries the then 15-year-old Florence, a childhood sweetheart with whom he quickly fathered five children. Later he will have a total of eleven children with four wives.

His time as an amateur is extremely successful. In 1964 he won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. The "Philly-Guy" is just 20 and is becoming a professional. In the meantime, a certain Cassius Marcellus has beaten Clay Liston, is the new heavyweight world champion and has converted to Islam. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Clay chooses the name Muhammad Ali. Because he refuses to go to the Vietnam War in 1967, he loses the title. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and was released on bail.

Frazier rushes to 18 more victories at the same time. Eddie Futch is now Frazier's trainer. In March 1968 Frazier wins the title of the New York State Athletic Commission, from which the later world association WBC emerges. This makes him the first boxer to win Olympic gold as an amateur and then the heavyweight title as a professional.

But his fame is not undisputed. The WBA, the competition association of the WBC, had also awarded a title to Jimmy Ellis, a former sparring partner of Alis. In February 1970 the title unification takes place. Frazier knocks out Ellis. Since Ali can box again, it all boils down to the ultimate duel: Frazier vs. Ali.

“I want Fraizaaah!” Shouts Ali from his exile in Florida, as Hartmut Scherzer recalls in “Boxsport” magazine. Scherzer is sitting on the ring of the New York Garden on March 8, 1971. The interest is beyond all dimensions. Hollywood star Burt Lancaster is hired as a television commentator for the broadcast of the fight in 370 cinemas and halls in North America. Frank Sinatra photographs for the weekly magazine "Life".

"Everyone is here tonight," announced the announcer in the ring. "So I just greet the Apollo 14 astronauts." Shepard, Roosa and Mitchell have just returned from the moon. Now, like the other 20,000 spectators in the sold-out garden, they look into the ring, which is becoming a world stage. Will be given: Ali - Frazier, two undefeated, charismatic champions, the first duel in the trilogy.

Both boxers don't like each other and have sufficiently assured each other of their mutual dislike in advance. Here Frazier, whom Ali mocks as “Uncle Tom”, as a “gorilla”, yes as the “champion of the white man”. And then there is the unpatriotic Ali, the great black hope, the loudmouth. Out of contempt, Frazier persistently calls him by his maiden name Cassius Clay and calls him a clown. Only two decades later will both find their peace with each other. Only then will Frazier stop making fun of Ali's Parkinson's disease as he did in 1996 when Ali lit the Olympic flame with a shaky hand. So Frazier will later say: "I have no more bitter feelings for Ali."

Even Willy Brandt woke up at 4:30 a.m. on that March day 1971 to watch the fight on television. The Chancellor will see Ali fight Frazier's battle because he wants to prove to the world that he can fight himself with the fighting machine. Frazier has boxing deficits and is not as elegant as Ali. But he can make up for it with his fighting spirit. Once it starts rolling, there is hardly any opponent who can stop it. Hence his fighting name "Smokin 'Joe", which his amateur trainer Durham once gave him. "Let's see the leather smoke, Joe!"

And now Ali, the butterfly, wedges itself with the daring bull Frazier. This can not go well. In the eleventh round, Ali falls over after a left hook. Ali can bail out again, but clearly loses the 15-round fight on points. It is Ali's first ever defeat; Frazier, whose tireless, forward-looking fighting style is rewarded, is at the goal of his dreams.

Budd Schulberg, author of the book “Dirty Laurel”, will express afterwards what many think in the hours after. “A victory of Clay would have encouraged many young men to refuse military service. His defeat is a satisfaction for the bourgeoisie and the whites. "

The second duel in January 1974 will not meet expectations. This time it's not about the world title. Frazier lost that to rising star George Foreman in January 1973. Ali wins the second fight against Frazier on points and in the autumn of the same year in Kinshasa (then Zaire) in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" he takes the title back from Foreman. Frazier won the right to challenge the world champion with two more victories. On October 1, 1975 there is a World Cup fight against Ali.

The third meeting is completely open to the experts. In fact, the "Thrilla of Manila" is developing into one of the most thrilling fights in boxing history. The Philippine Coliseum, which is packed with almost 30,000 spectators, is like a greenhouse. And what will happen in the next 14 rounds will be called an "epic battle" ("Sports Illustrated").

Both fight like two gladiators in a boxing match in the face of death. Joe Frazier, whose eyes are swollen shut, is no longer allowed to compete for the 15th and final round. His trainer Eddie Futch ended the fight. Frazier protests violently in the corner of the ring. With a swollen tongue he says, “No, Eddie, you can't do that to me.” Futch replies, “Sit down, my son. You haven't seen anything in the last two laps. Why do you think you can see in the 15th round? It's over. Nobody will ever forget what you did today. "

"The next blow could have been fatal," Futch told the world press afterwards. Ali is also at the end of his tether and collapses while still in the ring. He later says that he endured the struggle, "like the closest thing to dying." Completely untypical for him, Ali refrains from making big winning gestures and simply says: “We came to Manila as champions. We left as old men. "

A year later Frazier conceded another heavy knockout defeat against Foreman. He resigns. That lasts five and a half years. In December 1981, at the age of 37, he climbed into the ring again, and then it was over for good. Exactly a week later, Ali's career will also end. The now 39-year-old Ali, who has long since suffered from Parkinson's, is no longer allowed to box in the USA. In Nassau / Bahamas he is subject to Trevor Berbick.

After his career, Joe Frazier ran the "Joe's Smokin 'Gym" in Philadelphia for many years. The former world champion wants to get the kids off the streets. The gym is now closed. In between, Frazier tries his hand at being a show master, singer and emcee - with manageable success.

Now it has become very quiet about Joe Frazier, the greatest fighter the world has seen. His last opponent was invisible. An unequal struggle that millions of people wage and lose too often. Joseph William Frazier died in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. He was 67 years old.

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