Joe Frazier had no business winning a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. He had been beaten in the Olympic trials by Buster Mathis, a fighter with a far better amateur record. But Mathis broke his thumb while training for the Olympics and Frazier got his chance. It was ironic because in the Olympic semi-finals, Joe Frazier broke his own thumb. But "Smokin' Joe" Frazier was not a man to be denied. He had the thumb taped, basically fought with one hand in the finals and won the gold medal. It was typical of this gutsy fighter.
Joe Frazier was one of the great heavyweight champions of all time. It is sad that he fought in the same era as Muhammad Ali because he did not get the acclaim Ali did, and it was acclaim Frazier deserved. Frazier first won the heavyweight world championship in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in five rounds. He defended the title several times before being knocked out by former Olympian George Foreman. Frazier fought three tremendous battles with Ali. The first, in 1971, was the Fight of the Century, a battle of undefeated heavyweight champions, and Frazier won by a decision in 15. Frazier was on the losing end in the next two fights, but all three were great, great spectacles. The final match-up, the Thrilla in Manila, is usually acclaimed as the greatest ever heavyweight fight, with both fighters so exhausted by their efforts that Frazier was not allowed by his managers to come out for round 15, not knowing that Ali was about to do the same thing.
Frazier was very short for a heavyweight, and he made no pretense of backpedaling. He always came at you like a Sherman tank, willing to trade three punches to land one pulverizing blow. After losing his heavyweight title, he continued to fight for a few years before retiring in the mid 70s, except for a brief comeback in 1981. He sang with a group called "The Knockouts" and made some television commercials. His son, Marvis Frazier, also boxed professionally, twice fighting for the heavyweight title, but without success.
Despite the acclaim accorded Muhammad Ali, which somewhat diminished Frazier’s appeal, his opponent knew of his greatness, describing him as follows, "Fighting Joe Frazier is the closest thing to death that I know of. Of all the men I fought in boxing, including Sonny Liston and George Foreman, the roughest and toughest was Joe Frazier. ... If God ever calls me to a Holy War, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me."
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