HUNCHING HIS head down like a drill bit, Joe Frazier bored into the chests of his opponents until all you could see were flailing arms. Compared to the taller and more lithe Muhammad Ali, Frazier was a stout, bobbing piston. He was not elegant, but with the passage of time, and now his death this week at age 67, Frazier’s style came to seem far more symbolic of his time than he was ever given credit for.
Frazier was the boxing great who forever lived in the shadow of Ali, both athletically and culturally. While Muhammad Ali’s boasting fit a time when a new generation of black Americans were shouting for respect, Frazier’s relentless work ethic and life story remained representative of a black America that often worked its way out of Southern poverty by moving north to grind out a living. Asked by the Guardian newspaper in London about his life story, Frazier responded, “I know my destiny. I was born into animosity, bigotry, and hatred. We had water for white folks, and water for colored folks. White lines, black lines. I came from Beaufort in South Carolina and it was tougher than Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.’’