“A very painful experience in every way,” wrote Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “a proper end to the Sixties . . . [with] Cassius/Ali belted incredibly off his pedestal by a human hamburger, a man on the verge of death. Joe Frazier, like Nixon, had finally prevailed for reasons that people like me refused to understand — at least not out loud.”
1971’s first bout between the Vietnam War‘s most high profile conscientious objector & the son of a South Carolina sharecropper virulently morphed into more than a mere sporting contest (as we understand the concept today); it was, in many ways a histo-cultural crowning point. The times they were a changing; & though it took until 30 April 1975 for hostilities to officially draw to a close, the public tide against direct US involvement in Indo-China had turned sufficiently to allow this bout to take place at a moment in American & world history that was as much a new beginning as a period mark on the age that had immediately preceded it.
Joe Frazier had played a role in facilitating the showdown by petitioning a pre-Watergate President Richard Nixon to have Mohammed Ali’s right to fight professionally reinstated. Frazier went so far as boycotting the 1967 WBA heavyweight elimination tournament to find a successor to Muhammad Ali, after the champion had been stripped of the title. He, or his advisers, were intuitively aware of the sweeping shift in public sentiment that was by then well underway.
Old Blue Eyes
Frank Sinatra was ringside at Ali vs Frazier I in 1971 – as a LIFE photographer.
While Muhammad Ali is universally perceived as the greatest heavyweight of the greatest era for the sport’s marquee division, Eddie Futch (the trainer who called a halt to the timeless trilogy before a potentially fatal 45th round could take place) oversaw upsets of Ali by both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. The levels of charisma, enigmatic star power of & the consequential public infatuation with this class of heavyweight champions stands head & shoulders alone in the annals of boxing history.
Joe Frazier had never before seen a film replay of the “Thrilla in Manila” fight until some 34 years after the final chapter of the epic trilogy with Ali when he finally did so with filmmakers of an HBO commemorative film on the event. Ali called the third fight “the closest thing to dying,” whilst Frazier simply noted “We were dead. Both of us.”
“Don’t you know I’m God?” Ali had barked, during the 1971 Fight of the Century at New York’s Madison Square Garden that culturally, socially & politically punctuated much of the early 1970s & remains a seemingly unobtainable high point for boxing’s premier division. Smokin’ Joe – who similarly timed his verbal counter-assault with his fistic one, retorted with a bevvy (30 before the one that dropped Ali) of mean left hooks & “Well, God, you gonna get whupped tonight!”
Top Rank’s Bob Arum, promoting Pacquiao-Marquez III and who co-promoted the “Thrilla in Manila” back in 1975 says “We have organized a montage of Joe’s life which will be shown in the arena before the (Pacquiao-Marquez III) fight.” “We will sound the bell in remembrance of Joe,” Arum added.
The final word, though, goes to the great man himself; “Regardless of who you are, you have to think one way, and the right way, to be accepted by the man above,” … “He calls the shots.” Joe Frazier.
Matt Hamilton, for ESNewsReporting.