I’m sad today because of the passing of Joe Frazier. I liked Frazier a lot. I covered five of his fights — vs. Buster Mathis, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Foster and two of his three battles with Muhammad Ali.
Their first was one of the classic’s in boxing history. March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden. This year was the fortieth anniversary. Joe Maxey, who’s now the boxing writer for The Plain Dealer, usually says “Happy Anniversary” when I run into him on that day. That’s how much that fight means to boxing writers who were there.
Frazier won a close but unanimous decision, clinching it with a 15th round knockdown. When Frazier caught Ali with a tremendous left, Ali hit the canvas for only the second time in his career. When he got up, both sides of his jaw were swollen, as though Ali had a golf ball in each cheek.
After the fight Ali was taken directly to the hospital. He didn’t even attend the post-fight interview session. Back in his hotel room the next day, he didn’t even get out of bed. We interviewed him while he was lying in bed.
Two days later Frazier was admitted to the hospital. He worked so hard in that fight, throwing punches non-stop for 15 rounds — 45 minutes — that his muscles secreted an enzyme in such torrents that his body could not filter them out. It caused a life-threatening condition. A few years later some Marines died from a similar condition during boot camp.
Ali was cruel to Frazier in his way. Glib and handsome, the eloquent Ali ridiculed Frazier, calling him dumb and ugly. This was Ali’s tactic in earlier fights against Sonny Liston. Ali insisted to me that he discussed the strategy with Liston in order to build up interest in their fight. Frazier, however, was personally offended. He was wounded and carried the scars to the end of his life. Not long ago he made some conciliatory remarks about Ali, but he didn’t mean them. He simply had grown weary of lugging around the old baggage.
That’s all for now. See you at the book signing Wednesday night at Herb’s Tavern, 6 to 8 p.m.