When Boxing Was King
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Sportswriter Robert Brizel’s education with boxing history today centers around boxing’s most famous emotional ‘relationship’, good, indifferent or otherwise.
Muhammad Ali and Smokin’ Joe Frazier are no longer with us. Many other famous heavyweight names have slipped into the wind. Names such as Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Billy Conn, Jack Johnson, Jersey Joe Walcott, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Ernie Terrell, Jimmy Ellis, Oscar Bonavena, Henry Cooper, Doug Jones, John Tate, Corrie Sanders, Tommy Morrison and so many more. These names…they’re gone.
When it comes to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, one must understand Ali’s refusal to get drafted left him an undefeated world heavyweight champion without a title, and empowered Joe Frazier to become the undefeated world heavyweight champion with the title. Ali’s comeback after three years away set the stage for the biggest hyped bout ever at Madison Square Garden, and a record breaking pay-per-view event.
Ali and Frazier were meant to fight with each other inside and outside the ring. With Ali, it was always hype, and inferences to Frazier being an Uncle Tom catering to the white establishment were meant to fan the flames. Ali was no Joe Louis, a black champion presentable to whites, only to get bagged by the I.R.S. for back taxes for donating his purses to the World War II effort. Ali was against the grain and a loudmouth in everything he did, to the extent he established himself as an independent personality who traveled in his own direction.
Frazier’s nice personality was a contrast. Frazier was available to engage in verbal tirades, and for three bouts it was just clean fun. To the extent the off again on again feud between Ali and Frazier continued, it was not real. Joe was mostly concerned in later years with Ali’s declining health. Strangely, it was Ali in declining health who showed up to bury Joe in Philadelphia. One knew, no matter Ali’s physical condition, that Muhammad would show to say goodbye to his old friend and nemesis.
Ali and Frazier taught us much about promotion, friendship, rivalry, and pre-fight hype. In the long run, the legacy Ali and Frazier still provide is that their relationship inside the ring and out was of great public interest. For never again will it be said two undefeated heavyweight champions met, and one taught the other he was not immortal. For sportswriter Robert Brizel, that in itself is an education.
Ironically, it the Ali versus Marciano computer fight there were two different outcomes, in the United States Marciano won, and in Europe Ali won. Between Ali and Frazier they had three different outcomes. The best outcome was ‘The Greatest’ and Smokin’ Joe became a part of history, because their rivalry was simply meant to be. They paved the way for Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the modern era because Ali and Frazier originated the super fight concept Floyd fans later took for granted.