Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Ali Legend Grows, as Frazier's Shrinks

I just finished reading an article in the Philadelphia Daily news by Bernard Fernandez acknowledging Ali's 65th birthday, "While Ali's career is Celebrated, Frazier's is overlooked." I happen to think the title is quite appropriate, and I'm the biggest Ali fan on the Planet. Look, in my opinion, Muhammad Ali had more ways and weapons to beat other great heavyweights than any other champion in history, (he's actually more vulnerable to the near greats). His toughness and will to win, along with his ability to take a punch to the head and body is unmatched.
Sure, there were better boxers who exhibited better fundamentals and basics, (Tunney, Johnson & Holmes). There were better punchers along with those who were better conditioned January thru December. But no other heavyweight was more complete, be it in a flawed way. On top of that, he beat the best heavyweights over 20 years during an era most respected historians consider the best era in the history of the division. Lastly, if there was another heavyweight who thrived under pressure and repeatedly had an extra gear in a big spot like Ali, I missed him.
That said, Joe Frazier is wrongly perceived by some and doesn't get his due as the all-time great he was. On the World stage, Ali dwarfs Smokin Joe, but not as a fighter. No opponent ever gave Ali more trouble, fought him harder or took him to hell and back three times the way Frazier did. Some try and pass that off by stating Frazier had the right style, and nothing more.
Well, if that's the case, believe me, it didn't happen by accident. Frazier and his trainer, Yank Durham, understood Ali's style better than anybody else. Granted, Joe's body structure and build suited him best fighting on the inside. But the constant bobbing and weaving and head movement caused Ali to miss and somewhat neutralized his best offensive and defensive weapon, his lighting fast left jab. A punch he could alter direction with after released while in midstream. And he still missed a ton of them in all three fights totalling 41 rounds against Frazier.
As fighters, it's splitting hairs as to who was greater. It's just that Ali, because of his height and reach, was more adaptable. In a tournament of all-time greats, Ali does better versus the field than Frazier. However, with the exception of Sonny Liston and George Foreman, Joe probably handles any other upper-tier Ali opponent easier. Yes, that includes Ernie Terrell, Cleveland Williams, Mac Foster, Blue Lewis, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers. And Larry Holmes on his best night is in deeper water fighting Frazier than he would've been Ali. Against Ali, he'd only lose by being out pointed, against Frazier he'd get worked over like he never did in his career.
Ali stimulated conversation on race, war, Politics, the draft, Civil rights and Religion, just to name a few. Along with that he was the heavyweight champion of the world at a time when it meant something. Ali was much more than just a fighter. On the other hand, Joe Frazier was just a fighter. The one who happened to sit Ali on his rear end in the biggest, most anticipated and comprehensibly covered sporting event of all-time.
A lot of fighters have won a lot of big fights in boxing history, but only one won the biggest fight ever. His name is Joe Frazier. Boxing could thrive for another five hundred years, yet I doubt another fighter will hit the high note that Joe Frazier did on March 8th, 1971.
Despite rating Ali the greatest heavyweight who has yet lived, the best headline I've ever read in a newspaper the day after a fight, came at his expense. The headline across the top of the Camden Courier Post March 9, 1971.
Joe's Left-Right Up Muhammad's Ali!

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