I never grew up during the 1970s, so I perhaps cannot fully comprehend or appreciate what it was like to live during that great era of boxing, long considered its "Golden Age". It and the sport's defining moment came with "The Fight of the Century", the first meeting between the then-undefeated likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Having never lived during that period in time, I cannot measure its impact racially, socially, politically, or just in comparison to the greatest sports stories of the day, firsthand. As with many things in history, there are only three things you can rely on to get as accurate a picture of the past as possible: that which is recorded, that which is written, and that which is experienced first-hand (and, subsequently, recalled).
This past Monday, the man known as "Smokin'" Joe Frazier passed away, a man revered by his peers, scribes, and fans and acknowledged by all and history as one boxing's all-time best. Even though I lack an intimate connection to the figure, much like a child would when looking up to their favorite player or an adult in admiration of one thought to be better then they, there are still accounts from all of those individuals, the poetic prose from the fingertips of writers, and, most importantly, archival footage to see with my own eyes and form my own experience with.
It was through those avenues that I was able to observe the impressive prowess Frazier possessed, the life-and-death struggles he contested in the ring and the struggles of a different kind outside it, with the damaging ridicule Ali flung his way (even when Frazier helped him out financially), having to live in the shadows of his and others, and with his financial struggles post-career. Without a doubt, he was a great, tough, tenacious fighter that, in spite of his present recognition (particularly due to the aforementioned trilogy), deserved more than what he has gotten, and, by many accounts, was also a good human being. There is some comfort in knowing that he and Ali had reportedly made up recently, and at least in death, he was warmly embraced and commemorated by so many for the impact he had in life and in culture. I may not have been around during the height of his career, but it is certainly not hard to see just how good he truly was.
Rest in peace, Joe Frazier…