I was sorry to learn of the death of Joe Frazier yesterday. The former world heavyweight boxing champion lost his final fight to liver cancer at the relatively young age of 67.
I was in the Earls Court crowd the night Frazier beat Joe Bugner on points in July 1973; my first and only big fight.
I had ethical objections to prize fighting; any event in which the object is to knock your opponent unconscious doesn’t deserve to be called a sport.
But they weren’t strong enough to prevent me following the career of Muhammad Ali (he, let it not be forgotten, who was put on the canvas by our own Henry Cooper).
Ali had a wide, rebellious appeal among us young people at the time, even those that would otherwise espouse non-violence in response to the Vietnam War.
Frazier had beaten Ali – the first man to do so – in the ‘Fight of the Century’ in 1971 (pictured above).
My moral qualms evaporated with the opportunity to accept a last minute journalistic freebie to see Bugner step into the ring with Smokin’ Joe.
Looking back at what was written about the contest, it is rated as one of Bugner’s best performances.
It went the brutal distance. I remember every blow to either boxer’s head was struck with such ferocity his neck snapped back creating a long plume of sweat caught in the lights above the ring.
Sadly, despite the cruel demands of his calling, Frazier wasn’t able to hang on to his money unlike his biggest rivals George Foreman and, of course, Ali.
He was the subject of a downbeat television documentary a while ago and reading his obituaries today makes clear he was never able to come to terms with his two subsequent defeats to Ali.
I’d like to remember him as he was coming out for round 1 at Earls Court, the epitome of physical strength and menace.