I was saddened to read of the death of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, one of the great fighters during last years of the golden age of boxing.
Frazier won a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics and held the world heavyweight title for three years, from 1970 to 1973. He was best known, however, for his three titanic bouts with his nemesis, Muhammad Ali. Frazier won the first, and lost the last two, but all of the fights were legendary clashes. It is almost impossible to overstate the excitement and anticipation for each of those fights — especially now, when boxing has retreated far into the back pages of the sports sections of daily newspapers — but the entire sports world focused on Frazier and Ali as they trained, traded verbal jabs, and then stepped into the ring to fight for real. I always rooted for Ali, but I respected Frazier because you knew that Smokin’ Joe was going to give every fight his very best.
For those of us of a certain age, Frazier also is remembered for his performance in an early version of a reality show called Superstars and carried on ABC. The show pitted athletes from different sports against each other in a series of events, like the 100-yard dash or bowling. Frazier is vividly recalled for his classic floundering, near-fatal efforts in the unfamiliar environs of swimming pool.
Frazier, who died of liver cancer, was only 67. He will be missed. With Smokin’ Joe dead, Muhammad Ali shaky and hobbled by Parkinson’s syndrome, and George Foreman selling cooking equipment, the golden age of boxing seems very far away.