An Appreciation of a Champion
A few moments before the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez bout in Las Vegas on Saturday, fans in the MGM Grand will bow their heads in silence as the ring bell plaintively tolls 10 times. It is a somber boxing ritual reserved for the passing of great pugilists. This time, the bell will toll for Smokin' Joe Frazier, who succumbed to liver cancer Monday evening.
It is often said that Joe Frazier was a workmanlike heavyweight, but if by "workmanlike" they mean "nothing particularly special," then there is something radically amiss with that description.
Frazier, the heavyweight champion from 1970-1973, was one of the greatest fighters of his time—many would contend of all-time. He had a unique set of gifts, and he gave them freely.
Built on a slightly larger frame than Rocky Marciano, the man respectfully called Smoke by his boxing brethren was listed at 5 feet 11½ inches. That may have been a bit of a stretch. Frazier was always up against bigger men, and unless they were reckless enough to rumble inside, his foes would always try to keep the supersized version of Hammering Henry Armstrong on the perimeter.
In his prime, Frazier presented the constant movement of a bobblehead doll. He kept his chin tucked and moved relentlessly, up and down and side to side. Inside, short and stout boxers like Frazier gain the advantage in leverage. Once Frazier got on his opponent's chest, he stayed there, raking his whipsaw left hook to the body and head and sometimes even back again.
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