Rest in peace, Joe Frazier — with Marciano, maybe my favorite fighter of all time. The Frazier–Ali split is supposed to be a conservative–liberal thing, and according to some, preferring the former to the latter is supposed to be vaguely racist, to boot. Go figure. In any event, I fit the bill. I loved Joe Frazier and — well, and I don’t much care for Ali.
Neither did Joe. But it wasn’t always like that. All Frazier did for Ali was fight to get him reinstated while supporting him financially. For his trouble, Ali made Frazier’s life a living hell, especially in Manila, where he unleashed a bilious smear and intimidation campaign against Frazier that would put our worst political hacks and agents provocateur to shame. (HBO has a great documentary on the fight). A lot of people read “The Thrilla in Manila,” aka Ali–Frazier III, as cementing the former’s reputation as the superior fighter. I’d prefer to believe Ali’s ringman, who in that documentary swears Ali asked him to cut his gloves off after that 14th round and had no intentions of answering the bell in the 15th. I’d prefer to believe that Joe Frazier nearly destroyed “the greatest of all time” with one eye blind and the other half swollen shut. The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in between.
But my favorite Frazier anecdote comes from the first fight against Ali, in the Garden in 1971. Frazier would go on to win in a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss. But Ali dominated the early rounds. If I remember the anecdote correctly, during one of these rounds Ali taunted Frazier, asking him “Joe, don’t you know I’m God?”
To which Frazier replied, “Lord, you’re in the wrong place tonight.”