The Unfortunate Way We Remember Joe Frazier.

Joe Frazier 1944-2011.

A popular criticism of Philadelphia sports fans is that we adore the fictional heavyweight champion, Rocky Balboa, while mostly ignoring our real-life, homegrown champion, Joe Frazier.  In montages for events like the World Series, a Sunday Night Football game, things of that nature the city almost always leans on Rocky.  The city of cheesesteaks, the city where Rocky ran up the steps at the Art Museum, that kind of thing.  Well, Joe Frazier is the one who actually ran up those steps. That’s one of the aspects of Frazier’s life that Sylvester Stallone “borrowed”while making the films.  When the Phillies want a rally late in the game they show Rocky/Adrian and Mick.  Shouldn’t the fans be whipped into a similar frenzy watching footage of Frazier deck Muhammad Ali?  The truth is it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact, and the truth is the city does like Rocky more, and as much as I love the films and want to defend the city’s fans–that is a source of some embarrassment.

Some people think the disparity is a reflection of the city still clutching onto its racism.  I won’t get into that touchy a subject, but it’s worth putting on the table.  I don’t think you can ignore the fact that Frazier is African-American and Rocky was the Italian South Philly guy.  Even if that explained part of the story, though, why isn’t Joe Frazier remembered more fondly?  Especially in Philadelphia.

The careers of Frazier and his contemporaries like Ali and George Foreman were before my time.  I’m certainly no boxing historian and am far from an expert on anyone’s career.  I think that puts me in the majority, though, and allows to me explain at least why Frazier didn’t resonate quite so much with me.

First, Joe Frazier is on the wrong end of one of the most popular sports calls of all-time.  When Frazier lost to Foreman and Howard Cosell bellowed away with, “Down Goes Frazier!  Down Goes Frazier!” he permanently put that phrase into the American sporting lexicon.  It was the ultimate symbol of shocking and sudden defeat–and Joe Fraizer’s name was attached to it.  It is still the first thing that pops into my mind when someone brings up Joe Frazier.  Yeah, I know that guy, he’s the guy that got knocked out and then Howard Cosell went apesh*t.  From an age that produced that call and produced the famous photograph of Ali standing victorious over Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier never got his signature moment of triumph.

His three fight series with Ali is universally regarded as an epic confrontation.  Ali seems to get a disproportionate amount of the love for someone who won 2 of 3 fights.  And, I guess that’s another part of Frazier’s problem.  From the moment he was cast opposite Ali, he was engaged in a losing proposition.  Ali mastered the media, the interview in ways that Frazier never could.  Frazier was a fighter.  Ali was a showman and cultural icon.  Frazier was helpless as Ali used him as a punchline, cast him as a villain and referred to him as The Gorilla.  Frazier could have beaten Ali three straight and he still might have never reached his level of popularity.

Being one of “The Greatest’s” stepping stones I suppose can’t be great for a legacy.  Frazier is lost in the tidal wave of Ali’s popularity.  I’m sure even in Philadelphia, Ali had plenty of support during those fights.  He was that captivating and he stood for something, and again Fraizer was just a boxer.  That’s probably his biggest crime along with poor timing.  Even this morning on my way through Yahoo I notice the trending topics, Joe Frazier #4…Muhammad Ali #3.  Even at his passing, Frazier still makes more people think of Ali.  Quite a shame.


21 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Way We Remember Joe Frazier.

  1. I think it’s entirely explained by race. Or, at least it tells you all you need to know. If Frazier was an Italian guy from South Philly he’d have been the most popular athlete in the city’s history.

    The town has no problem elevating sports heroes. Guys that don’t win a thing are Gods for life and Frazier actually is the Heavyweight champ and he’s riding shotgun to Rocky.

    • I like this type of antagonism, solid and wise post and I agree with the Antagonist (just this once). Boxing has long been a sport that is hard for me to swallow, because violence is so hard for me and so is deliberating punching and fighting and self-inflicted torture. I have, however, tremendous respect for the commitment and passion and heart of fighters. Q

  2. ps, this is what wiki says: Some of the most memorable moments in the 1976 boxing-themed feature film, Rocky — such as Rocky’s carcass-punching scenes and Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as part of his training regimen — are taken from Frazier’s real-life exploits, for which he received no credit.[22]

    but i can’t garner exactly what his Philly ties were, I know ESPN said he wasn’t born in Philly but spent quite a big deal of time, here…3-Putt, can you explain his ties/years r/t Philly?


  3. Frazier was born in South Carolina. He ended up on his own by the time he was 15/16. He ended up in Philly, where he worked in a slaughterhouse (rocky scene) and that’s where he started training as a fighter.

    He always lived in Philly then and had a boxing gym until a few years back I think in the city.

  4. I honestly didn’t think about race until you mentioned it in the article.

    Philadelphia has embraced tons of black athletes who never won, Cunningham, Iverson, Barkley, Dawkins.

    I think the thing about Frazier is he payed an individual sport. I don’t think Philadelphia fans get pumped when they talk about other athletes who played individual sports. Would anyone get pumped to see a highlight of Bernard Hopkins knocking out Boxer X. And if they would, doesn’t that take away from the racial stance?

    Rocky had so many indelible imagines of him at the Art Museum and other areas around Philly. Fans get pumped to see the overdramtic clips of him training and kneeling next to Adrian. His fictional story represented the city, it’s people and the teams of the city.

    Frazier also takes a slight hit because he wasn’t born in Philliy. He’s from South Carolina.

    But I think a lot of the disconnect has to do with the media and mostly ESPN. Everyone crams Ali down your throat, but never mention Frazier won the first of their three fights. It was called the Fight of the Century and yet it goes relatively unknown because ESPN has it’s top 100 lists and they need to pump up Ali as much as possible.

  5. I’m kind of surprised you’ve never heard race connected to Frazier.

    I think your examples are not time relevant. The city is a lot different now than it was in the 1960s. All your examples are a good 15 years past Frazier’s prime for one.

    You should go back a little further, Richie Allen for example, to get a better idea of how race played a role in sports coverage/fandom in the city.

    If Frazier came up today, I believe he would be extremely popular, but this all happened 40-50 years ago, so I don’t think your D-Mac argument that you borrowed from Mikey Miss here applies.

    I don’t think him being from South Carolina has anything to do with it. Philly people generally latch onto anything they can. They went crazy for a horse that was born in Delaware. And, again Rocky is a fictitious character. You really think it would resonate so well, or be as popular if the character was black?

    • I can’t explain why I never thought about race with him.

      I know race plays a role in sports, but im just not seeing it here.

      Did you mean my Hopkins argument? I’m not sure what Mikey Miss said if and when he brought this up. I haven’t listened to him in over a week. What connection did he make between McNabb and Frazier? I think if he did something like that it would be a reach because he and Frazier seem like polar opposites.

      If he made a connection between Hopkins and Frazier I can see it a little bit. The only difference is Hopkins is a bit more of a showman and a lot more abrasive. The biggest similarity is they are both black and world champs in boxing.

      We do latch onto anything possible and Frazier is considered more of a Philly legend than some out of towner who came here. I’m just saying there might be some people who “hold it against him.” I don’t agree with that thought, only offering it as a potential reason.

      Rocky being white helped the story, but I don’t see that being the factor to making him more popular than Joe Frazier. This town latches onto winners and the way the media portrayed Frazier I don’t think he was seen as the ultimate champion, just some guy who pushed Ali, but ultimately played second fiddle. Rocky on the other hand was seen as a champ even when he lost in the first movie.

      • And when I say I didn’t consider race I mean as it relates to the Frazier/Rocky discussion you were having and not as it relates to Frazier’s career.

      • Well I think your last sentence there about Rocky being seen as a Champ even in defeat is telling. Surely, Frazier when he lost did so with plenty of courage.

        The Mikey Miss thing is every time someone brings up people hating on McNabb because he’s black, he counters with those athletes you mention. And, I agree in McNabb’s case. People didn’t like him because he was a goof and never came up big.

        I just don’t think you can cross generations when comparing other black athletes to Frazier.

    • I think Rocky was seen as a champ because that’s the way the movie was written and portrayed.

      In the case of McNabb I don’t think people hated him because of race. And in the case of the Rocky/Frazier debate I don’t see it as a racial thing either. I honestly thing it has to do with the way each person/character was handled by the media.

      I hear what your saying in going cross generational with black athletes, but if race is an issue you try to see if it is something consistent throughout generations.

  6. Yeah, look up the Phillies history of integration and their treatment of Jackie Robinson. Pretty unfortunate.

    Also, you have to take into account boxing’s overall popularity. It’s impossible to fathom how big heavyweight fights were at that time. They were marquee events. The heavyweight champion had a profile that they’ll never achieve again. So, while I’m sure Hopkins is a very popular athlete, even if he were heavyweight champ right now the expected level of adulation would be much less than it would have, or should have been in 1970.

  7. Part of the reason frazier lost the popularity battle to Ali was related to the social unrest/change in America at the time. Phil Mushnick (sp) had a great article the other day in the NY Times talking about it. Basically that Frazier, for whatever reason, was tied to “The Establishment”, he was your parents champion and Ali represented the cultural shifting of America. Ali had carte blanche to say some pretty despicable things to Frazier, and Frazier was never the type to react he was a boxer, not a politician looking for a debate or war of words. So Ali winning was seen as a win over the establishment as much as it was seen as a win over frazier.

  8. Also, 30 for 30 did a great show on “The Real Rocky”, who apparently isn’t joe frazier. Some white dude from Philly, for what it’s worth.

    • yeah, that guy was named Chuck Wepner. He was a journeyman fighter, I think from Jersey, that gave Ali a great fight…The Bayonne Bleeder

      Obviously Frazier was not an underdog in the talent sense,so that part of Rocky is not based on him.

      Just odd that I think most people would associate Rocky’s famous training sequences with pure fiction.

      Also, if Frazier was more popular, I think there would have been backlash about Rocky using those scenes. Like, hello–that’s Joe Frazier–do something original. But no, they just threw up a Rocky statue.

      • I just don’t know how Frazier isn’t popular in Philly, it seems odd. Outside philly, i can understand other factors pushing people towards Ali, or just generally discounting Frazier, but I’d think within Philly they’d have adopted him and defend him vehemently.

      • I don’t want to say he’s not popular–because that certainly isn’t true. He’s definitely adopted by the city to a certain extent. But, in relation to his standing in sport, especially a sport like boxing that has such roots in Philly–it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t a more prominent figure.

        I mean, he’s an occasional topic on sports radio today. Some old-timers calling in with a story or two. If Rocky was real and he died, talk radio would shut down for a week.

        and, what you said about Ali is totally right. When Ali is calling you an Uncle Tom, that’s going to impact your image–in a major way.

  9. Joe never met a big puncher he couldn’t avoid; when frazier pulled that nonsense about Ali lacking courage, maybe someone should have asked frazier why he never tangled with lyle, martin, liston, and shavers? It’s always easy to be “tough” and “relentless” when fighting Ali – a guy without a big punch. By the way, as execrable as he could be at times, Ali, fought all the big punchers of his era while frazier was trying to convince everyone – unsuccessfully – that he could sing and dance.

    Ali was a deeply flawed man, but his resume vastly overshadows Frazier’s and people should not overlook that.

    Joe doesn’t get out of the dressing room against sonny liston

  10. I knew of the fight in Manila, but I NECER knew the FULL story of “Smoking” Joe Frazier. After what he did to help Mohamed Ali get his boxing LICENCE back, then Ali “Crapping” on Joe & publicly disrespecting him, “Smoking Joe” has ALL the respect of all Australians down here. I’m sorry, but “Piss on Ali” for what he did to the Frazier name & Frazier’s family. Ali, like Frazier said in the “Thriller in Manila” documentary, for all your BULLSHIT, it will haunt you later on in live. Look at you know Ali. The reason why you are like you are now is because of Frazier BASHING you, & God punishing you for all the bad you did with the public humiliation of “Smoking” Joe Frazier. Ali, you’re not worth the “SPIT” under Joe Frazier’s foot, after what you did to your former friend. Ali, YOU ARE A DIGRACE to all Americans & the Sport of Boxing. If you ever go to Heaven (Which I doubt), “Smoking” Joe Frazier is waiting to WHOOP YOUR ASS “AGAIN”! Let the truth be heard!

    • I loved Ali. But I agree with everything Robert says. Lost all my respect for all the crap he threw a Joe Frazier. Joe was a great fighter and should have more respect from his contemporaries and all boxing fans.

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