Being that I was born in 1978, by some estimates I’m still a newbie to the 3rd Rock from the sun. As a result, I missed the great royal rumbles that took place between boxing legends such as Muhammed Ali, George Forman, Sugar Ray Lenord along with many others. And as a boxing fan I have had to experience these great men’s victories and defeats through old footage and pictures.
Yet, in my time of inhaling and exhaling the cancer causing smog produced on this rock, I have learned something about greatness, or what it means to be great. Not rich, famous, or even notorious, but true greatness. For me true greatness is the ability to take nothing and make something, the strength and character to stand on your own two feet when everything and everyone may be against you; it means being a man or woman of your word who strives to practice what you preach, and it also means having a “I cannot be defeated, and I won’t surrender” attitude. One that cannot and will not relent, even in the face of certain defeat. That’s true greatness.
It was the attitude expressed by world famous Spanish painter Pablo Picasso when he said, “even in a prison or in a concentration camp, I would preserve in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell.”
And this was the conviction of boxing legend “Smoking” Joe Frazier who succumbed to liver cancer earlier this year.
As I read the Sports obituaries that followed, I learned a lot about this great man and talented athlete beyond the fact that he was the Heavy Weight Champion of the world from 1970 to 1973.
Once again, I was reminded of what makes the great great. In his first bout with flamboyant undefeated Heavyweight Champ Muhammed Ali, burning one spirited exchange of blows Ali joked with Frazier “you can’t beat me, Joe, I’m God.”
To which Frazier retorted, “Then God is gonna get a whuppin tonight.”
For all you young heads like me – whose parents probably hadn’t even made eyes at each other when this epic battle between these two undefeated heavy weights was taking place – guess what?
God got a 15 round butt whuppin.
But if victory is what makes us, it’s the agony of defeat that defines us. When Frazier met Ali again in a 1975 in a match dubbed “The Thrilla In Manila”, by the 14th round it was all Ali and Smoking Joe whose one good eye had been pounded shut by Ali’s lightning fast jab that had become a human punching bag.
His trainer boxing legend Eddie Futch, who had already lost several fighters in the ring, was ready to throw in the towel. He told Frazier, “You can’t see…I’m going to stop it!”
Frazier wasn’t having it, “Don’t,” he said. “I can still feel him out there.”
But Futch wasn’t about to lose another fighter, especially not Joe, and threw in the towel against Frazier wishes. Frazier was so upset that it would be several years before he would even speak to Eddie Futch again.
Today the Ali vs. Frazier, “Thrilla In Manila”, is considered one of the 10 greatest fights in boxing history. And it was Frazier’s never give up, give in, or give out undefeated spirit that made it so.