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Joe Frazier

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

You know, of course, that Joe Frazier died last night. I write only to note my surprise at how moved I’ve been today by some of the pieces I’ve read about him, most notably David Remnick’s reflections at The New Yorker.

I so dislike the mere existence of boxing that I avert my eyes when I accidentally stumble on an article about it in the paper or at a website, turning the page or clicking away as quickly as possible. Yet, I grew up at a time when boxing still was part of mainstream culture. Indeed, heavyweight championship bouts were as big a part of the sporting calendar as the World Series, or as the Super Bowl is now. Surely the first Swede I knew of, or, to be more precise, the first person whose existence brought to my attention the notion that there were such things as Swedes, was Ingemar Johansson. (But then there’s that contemporaneous Swede, Dag_Hammarskjöld. I’m pretty sure I knew of Johansson first. Hammarskjöld would be Swede number two.) Johansson’s championship victory over Floyd Patterson, or maybe Patterson’s win in the re-match, would have been the first boxing match I knew of. And then Patterson lost to Sonny Liston, and then Liston lost to Muhammed Ali (still Cassius Clay), and so on, until we came to the two great Ali-Frazier matches, the first and third of three.

I can almost make myself believe, as I read today about the third one, the Thrilla in Manila, that I watched it live. Then I remember that that wasn’t an option. The major boxing matches would be shown on TV days later. For live action, one would have to be content with round-by-round summaries on the radio. I listened to those summaries. I actually cared.

Remnick, who knows a thing or two about Ali and Frazier, gives some sense in his remembrance of why one might care:

I’ve watched the fight more times than I can count. I rarely watch boxing much these days, mainly because it’s hard to countenance a sport that I would never let my kids take part in. And yet I can’t resist this spectacle of will. As Frazier sat on his stool after the fourteenth round, a round in which Ali had punched him so hard with a right hand that Frazier’s mouthpiece went flying into the seats, a round in which it became obvious that he could no longer defend himself, his manager Eddie Futch had to insist that it was over. He would not allow his man to die in the ring—which, if you watch the video, seems like a distinct possibility.

“Joe,” Futch said, “I’m going to stop it.”

“No, no, Eddie you can’t do that to me,” Frazier said softly.

“You couldn’t see in the last two rounds,” Futch said. “What makes you think ya gonna see in the fifteenth?”

“I want him, boss,” Frazier said.

“Sit down, son,” Futch said, placing a hand on his fighter’s shoulder. “It’s all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.”

Categories: Obituary, Sports
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