By John F. McKenna (McKjack)
If you are a boxing fan and live in Philadelphia or it’s suburbs there is only one thing that matters to you today. Joe Frazier died last night. Everyone who knew anything about Frazier knew when they heard the news over the weekend that he was gravely ill suffering from the effects of liver cancer that it wouldn’t be long. Frazier would not have wanted anyone to know how sick he was and would not have wanted the news to leak out. He did not want sympathy and he did not want his legions of fans to see him the way he was.
It’s ironic that the fictional character of Rocky had to be made up when in reality the real Rocky lived in Philadelphia the whole time in the person of Joe Frazier. Joe was born to sharecropper parents in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1944 and like the fictional Rocky knew what it was to struggle early in life.
Years later Frazier wound up working in a slaughterhouse and in fact the scene depicting the fictional Rocky using sides of beef as a substitute for a heavy punching bag in the Rocky movie was art imitating reality. Joe Frazier had honed his powerful left hook in similar fashion on the job.
Fate must have intervened for Frazier to wind up in Philadelphia. The hardscrabble neighborhoods of Philly, the home of “The Broad Street Bullies” of hockey fame was perfect for Joe. The Philadelphia fans who once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game loved Frazier and he loved them.
Frazier was called by the nickname Smokin’ Joe by his many admirers. The nickname was a perfect fit. Fans called him that because just like an old time coal fired steam locomotive he would sputter, growl, hiss and smoke like a steam locomotive when he moved in on his adversary. And just like the steam locomotive he would continually gain momentum.
Many people have forgotten how in 1967 Joe fought aggressively and protested against Muhammad Ali’s title being stripped away from him. At the time Joe was the number one contender and stood to be the one who would most benefit from Ali losing his title.
But Joe did what he thought was right. He also helped Ali to weather the storm by assisting him financially although he did not billboard that for everyone to see what he had done. He kept a low profile when helping others.
Joe took a lot of heat because of his friendship with Philadelphia Police Commissioner and later Mayor Frank Rizzo. Here again Frazier remained friendly with Rizzo and was not worried about what others thought.
To be sure just like all of us Smokin’ Joe had his warts, but in the grand scheme of things he was a magnificent human being, and oh yes he was a pretty good fighter as well.
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