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.