I have never written about boxing on The Daily Banter before as I have reserved the site almost exclusively for politics (bar the odd snarky piece on celebrity culture). I’m making an exception today due to the sad passing of one of my heroes, the legendary heavyweight Joe Frazier who died last night due to liver cancer.
I reported on boxing for several years and have long been completely obsessed with the sport and its fascinating characters. While the business is often corrupt and brutal, the sport of boxing is competition in its purest form, and you will never meet a more honest person than a fighter, and I know because I have met many of them. Boxers deal in reality and can never afford to lie to themselves. Without acknowledging the truth, a fighter can never get better. The ring is an unforgiving place where flaws are exposed ruthlessly and there is no one else to blame other than yourself. To rise to the top in a sport like boxing, you need to have uncommon qualities – qualities Joe Frazier had in abundance.
Fighters are a unique breed of people – the best having a complex mixture of intelligence, raw instinct, and incredible bravery. Joe Frazier epitomized all of the above and more, a fighter so well regarded in the boxing world that his arch nemesis Muhammed Ali called him “A real, real fighter; the toughest man in the world”. Frazier was forever defined by his fights with Ali, beating him the first time they met, and losing the other two. They boxed 41 rounds together over three epic fights, the last, a vicious encounter in Manila, putting both men close to the point of death. Frazier, blind in both eyes having taken 14 rounds of brutal punishment would not quit, forcing his trainer Eddie Futch to tell him ‘Sit down son, it’s all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today’. No one did, and Frazier is not just remembered for his victory over Ali, but his sheer resilience in defeat.
Frazier would always give it his all in the ring – he would never compromise, never back down and never give up on himself. He was defined by his fights with Ali, and Ali was defined by his fights with Frazier. Both men are regarded as great fighters largely because they fought each other.
Great fighters are only considered great when they face and overcome adversity. Frazier fought so many wars in the ring and came back from so many beatings that it is hard to think of another fighter equal in heart and courage. Few in boxing history can be mentioned in the same sentence as Joe Frazier, and his determination to overcome odds and willingness to push himself beyond human limits will echo in the sports history forever.
Rest in Peace Joe. You deserve it.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.