Joe Frazier was not Muhammad Ali. He was not a cultural icon, and he did not make political statements. He just hit people for a living, often with his famed left hook. Frazier, who died Monday at age 67, was a sharecropper’s son from South Carolina who moved up north to Philadelphia and became one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history.
However, there is a tendency to diminish Frazier’s accomplishments because he was inextricably linked with Ali, who was not just a great athlete but a cultural phenomenon. Frazier didn’t seek celebrity, nor did he have a bard like Howard Cosell to sing his praises. He did not proclaim that he was the greatest, or weigh in on the Vietnam War.
In the same way that Roger Federer is tied to Rafael Nadal or Magic Johnson is forever associated with Larry Bird, Frazier and Ali will be forever linked in history. It does not demean either one to be joined with the other - nor does it make Frazier any less of a fighter just because Will Smith did not make a movie about him. In the three Ali-Frazier fights, boxing fans saw two of the greatest compete at the highest level. Ali was more glamorous, but Joe Frazier was just as much a champion.