There are some folks who are remembered because of the intense rivalry they bred, even as they remained constantly under their rival's shadow. For composer Antonio Salieri, it was Wolfgang Mozart; for mathematician Gottfried Liebniz, it was Isaac Newton. For boxer 'Smokin' Joe Frazier, it was Muhammad Ali. But Frazier, who died at 67 on Tuesday after battling liver cancer, was much more than the boxing great who constantly sparred with Ali. For one, he beat Ali at the legendary 'Fight of the Century' in 1971. For another, with his legendary left hook, Frazier was one of the true greats to have worn the gloves in the ring.
At a time when there has been much debate about what is sport and what is entertainment, Frazier plied his trade when the two were intimately bound as one. Showmanship and boxing may have been most snugly hand in glove with Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali, but Frazier was never far behind. In the run-up to defeating Ali in the 1971 bout between the two undefeated heavyweight champions (Ali had been stripped of the title for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War), he matched Ali word for word. But it was in the 11th round of that match that the 27-year-old Frazier got his gloves to do the talking, making Ali stagger to his left hook. By the 15th round knock-down, the match was over with Frazier winning on points. (Ali defeated him twice subsequently.)
Frazier's gift lay in his left hand — ironically permanently 'cocked' after a childhood accident involving chasing a hog — as well as his ability to wear his opponents down. In 1964, he won the United States' only Olympic boxing gold, having beaten in true 'Rocky' style, the Soviet contender at the peak of the Cold War years in the semi-final. He would turn professional the next year. Joe Frazier will be remembered for bringing to a sport the element of on-the-ring drama. But in the end, he was a boxer par excellence. After all, after winning the 'Thrilla in Manila' bout in 1974 against Frazier, Ali admitted that it had been the toughest fight in his career.