In 1971, I was a wide-eyed 17-yr-old boy who loved boxing. What a time to be a fan… there were great boxers at all levels and each weight class. There was one who rose above them all, the omnipresent Muhammad Ali aka the Greatest of All Time. Ali had talent that had never been seen before for a man his size. He was my hero the way he spoke and talked about the politics and foreign policy issues of America. I loved him for his presence and his fighting spirit for truth and justice… a man who refused to fight in what he believed was an unjust war (Vietnam) and a man who proudly went to jail over his moral convictions.
Along came a gritty, tough fighter from the streets of Philadelphia named Joe Frazier. As gifted an orator that Ali may have been, Frazier was the polar opposite. He’d come to be known as a man who resented much of what Ali stood for. I disliked him because he taunted my hero.
At the time of these two gladiators aptly named “Fight of the Century”, both men had unblemished fighting records… undefeated and well deserved. There was no pay for view in those days just closed circuit tv. More than five thousand people gathered at the Milwaukee Auditorium that evening and I was one of the throng who paid five dollars to witness history in the making.
It was the greatest fight of all times and as time began to run down with the fight still yet to be won, Frazier knocked my hero down with a tremendous left hook!
I’ll never forget the refrain of Howard Cossell, “…down goes Ali down goes Ali!”
That night, my eyes were opened and a little innocence was lost. I believed in a man, I believed Ali was bigger than life itself. Frazier brought me back to the reality with one punch. No man is bigger than he who created us, not even Muhammad Ali.
May God have mercy on the soul of Smokin Joe Frazier.