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Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier: The Brutal Battle For A Warriors Pride

Muhammad Ali is one of my favourite human beings to have ever existed. I’ve admired this man my whole life, and my appreciation for him only grows the older I get. I believe people like Ali get that famous and go through everything they go through as a teachable moment for the rest of us, because there’s so much we can learn from this mans life. Ali became champ during the early days of television so there had never really been anyone that was as famous as him before him.

Ali is a unique human in history, Cassius Marcellus Clay was a gifted athlete, a self proclaimed pretty boy Olympian and one of the greatest orators in human history. Ali was more of an artist than an athlete, he was a poet, a prophet who predicted the rounds the clowns were going down, an absolute showman who knew how to work a crowd more than anyone.

He was talented, and vain about it, and the more he was right the less you could hate him because he always backed up all the trash he talked, because in his own words he wasn't conceited, he was convinced.

All of Cassius fights were huge draws because he put everything on the line every time, he would say things like he’ll retire from boxing if he loses, or he’ll crawl across the ring and kiss his opponents feet, he was constantly battling the threat of public humiliation and he fed off the hate from the audience, he really loved playing the heel role, something he learned from pro wrestling’s Gorgeous George.

Cassius worked hard, he trained, but he was also visibly naturally gifted in a way no heavyweight had ever been, he was faster than everyone, his reach was longer, he was virtually untouchable so he constantly broke the rules of boxing, he’d keep his hands down, he’d dance around the ring, he’d do whatever because he was that much better. This cocky kid went on to beat the most feared heavyweight in the world in Sonny Liston at 22 years old after having all of the odds placed against him, he shook up the world, then as the most famous human being on planet Earth, he decided to convert to a radical Muslim group and change his name to Muhammad Ali, during the height of the civil rights movement, this single move made him an enemy of the state.

Cassius Clay was so successful that he really never had to change his name, he could have kept getting money, entered his boxing prime as the heavyweight champion of the world and do what every other champion did, buy nice things and enjoy their life, but Ali didn’t, at the height of his fame he took a stand, not only for himself but for his people. After converting to Islam Ali was drafted to the Vietnam war, and he refused to go for religious reasons so he was stripped of his title, almost sent to jail, and he wasn’t allowed to fight for 3 years leaving him broke. Ali’s story is extremely interesting because Muhammad Ali was just a man, but he was the greatest fighter alive, the most famous man alive, a political leader, a religious leader, a civil rights activist, and he was ultimately proven righteous by his entire society.

The whole world either loved him deeply for what he did, or hated him for it. Ultimately everyone began viewing the war in Vietnam as a mistake with people like Martin Luther King coming out to speak up for Ali, many people revered and venerated Ali beyond human status, he was deemed nearly divine by people. By the time Ali came back to the ring after the Vietnam incident, he was still in his late 20s. The man Ali was going to face for his vacated title was Joe Frazier.

Ali vs Frazier is one of the most famous fights ever and has been reported on forever but I still think this is one of the most important rivalries in history that tells us a lot about humanity. When Ali got Parkinson’s Frazier celebrated and announced himself to be the real winner of their trilogy, because that’s how much Ali hurt his feelings. That’s how much this war affected both these men. Ali later apologized for everything he did to Frazier and they became friendly, but in those fights we saw human beings nearly kill each other. Their first fight was supposed to be Alis homecoming crowning moment, this would have been bigger than beating Sonny Liston, beating Joe Frazier in that first fight would have been beating the American government, racism, fascism, and so many other things at once, it would have been the moment that would have undisputedly labelled him the greatest by even his harshest critics, everyone would have had to bow.

By the time Ali came back, he was revered to a point where anyone he was against was “the bad guy.” Smoking Joe Frazier was a humble boxer from Philadelphia, he wasn’t known to boast too much and he was a boxers boxer, he was known for how much he gave to the craft of boxing, and during Ali’s absence Joe won the vacated heavyweight championship.

As a testament to Fraziers character, when Ali was down Frazier reportedly gave him money, supported him, their kids knew each other, they went to each other’s houses, they were on the road together, their was an established dynamic, and because Ali was a hero to all people, he was one of Fraziers heroes too. By the time Ali’s license was reinstated, Ali was back to his old ways of trying to promote fights, but this time his voice was larger than ever, and Ali wasn’t very responsible with his new found plateau, and as we all know with great power comes great responsibility.

Ali, despite how much we love him, was absolutely a crazy person when it comes to boxing. He had that Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan competitive insanity. Ali was such a legend outside of boxing with his philanthropic efforts and everything he did for humanity, but Muhammad Ali the boxer, especially early in his career, was one of the most narcissistic, egotistical, insane people who have ever put gloves on their hands, but that’s why he was Ali, and a lot of it was done to draw a crowd, and it worked, but a lot of it was also to get in his opponents heads.

Ali would do things like go to Sonny Listons house with a bullhorn and scream at him for hours in the middle of the night just to get in his head. On paper Ali vs Frazier is a great match and it was instantly billed as the fight of the century. From a height, weight and style perspective it seemed like they were evenly matched. During the building of the fight Ali started calling Frazier a fake champion, an Uncle Tom, ugly, all types of unnecessary slurs, Ali knew it’s part of what draws a big crowd, Frazier on the other hand who’s entire family had to bare the brunt of Ali’s taunts, with his children who go to school that were being harassed by strangers about what Ali was saying about their father, didn’t find it funny, so much so that before Fraziers fight against Ali he prayed to God to let him kill Ali.

Ali had taken everything away from Frazier with his verbal assaults, he took away his legitimacy as champion, he misrepresented him as this dumb person, people thought he was pro Vietnam war, anti black and so many other things that had nothing to do with him, and this rage that Frazier had against Ali is visible in their first fight. Frazier would have rather died than lose to Ali, there’s a point where Ali keeps throwing head shots and Frazier laughs while jumping up and down. These guys were evenly matched in every way possible.

This was Ali right after Vietnam, he’s on top of the world in every aspect, he’s the undefeated heavyweight that was proven right and just against the most powerful government in front of the whole world, ready to reclaim his throne. Ali’s style consists of running away and jabbing, Fraziers style, which he called smoking, consisted of him moving forward, dodging or eating punches and hitting his opponents with a devastating left hook once he’s close enough.

All the critics said Ali was slower but Ali said he’d dance away all night and keep jabbing Frazier, Ali predicted it would be a knockout, he predicted it would be like an amateur fighting a professional, then for the first time in his entire career, Muhammad Ali lost. Ali kept dancing away and punching Frazier but Frazier would eat the punches, and just keep marching forward like the scariest horror movie villain, and any time he’d get in that left hook would rock Ali to the point where it broke his jaw. It was Ali’s biggest fight of his life up to that point and he missed the shot, he blew it, Frazier knocked him down in the 14th, and even though Ali got up within a few seconds, the judges unanimously agreed Frazier won.

He didn’t succeed in regaining his title and that burned Ali inside more than anything, he never even accepted that he lost, he refuted it instantly in a post fight interview. After their first fight Frazier had spent a month in the hospital and Ali had broken bones.

By the time for their second fight you could see the hate Ali had developed for Frazier. This match was different, Frazier had lost his title to George Foreman and both men were battling to see who would be number one contender. Ali doubled down on taunting Frazier and misrepresenting him to the audience, and Ali won their second fight by decision. This fight went all 15 rounds again and both men refused to lose or fall to the other, it seemed like even after all that time had passed since their first fight, as soon as they fought they were back like they never left, and they were still almost exactly evenly matched. They would give each other the fight of their lives every time.

Their third fight is the most renowned boxing fight of all time, titled the Thrilla in Manila. This match looked like these two were born to fight each other, they both wanted to kill each other and didn’t care how much damage they would take as long as they dealt an equal amount of damage.

Now, I’ve watched this fight many times throughout the years, but rewatching it recently made me uncomfortable beyond comprehension, especially when I saw Ali deliberately knock Joe Frazier's mouthpiece across the ring and keep punching him in the face as hard as he could, because I finally understood what I was looking at.

The thrilla in Manila makes you understand what boxing really is. Is it just guys beating each other up for money? Maybe on the surface, but underneath it’s something more deep & evolutionary, it’s the warrior instinct in human beings presented, nobody else existed in that moment for them besides the other man, it’s truly survival of the fittest, we take our best competitors and make them fight to see who the best is, and the best isn’t just money or title, it’s who survives and you could see it in both these men fighting in 100 degree heat in a stadium in the Philippines in the 70s, both their arms are dead tired, it’s the 14th round, they’re both blind with swollen eyes but each man had too much pride and arrogance to lose to the other man.

You start asking yourself what’s really at stake here? And when you consider it, you realize it’s everything, it’s life, it’s their reputation, their livelihood, their well-being, their identity, their personal standing, how they view themselves as men fundamentally, Joe Frazier didn’t care how many times Ali hit him in the head, and Ali didn’t care how tired he was, they were both going to keep throwing punches until they died, and that was real for them.

The fight was stopped in the 14th by Fraziers crew who felt he was on the brink of death and blind from both eyes, but Frazier was begging to still fight. It’s not normal to put your body through that level of agony, your mind begs you to just fall down exactly as Ali did seconds after the fight was stopped by Fraziers team. These guys were the real Goku and Vegeta, except this was real, these are descendants of warriors just like all humans, battling it out out in a test of will and might for their souls. Ali really asked himself as he kept punching Joe Frazier in the face with everything he had in the 14th round and this man kept coming at him seemingly completely unaffected by all the blows he’s taken “what am I doing in this ring with this beast of a man?” And that’s a question I asked myself watching Ali in that ring.

A year after that fight Ali was slurring his speech in interviews and Joe Frazier was never the same fighter. Ali said me and Frazier went into that fight as champions, but we left as old men.

Muhammad Ali is one of the smartest athletes I’ve ever watched, he knew all the risks involved in boxing and he knew it since he was a kid, which is why his style consisted of dodging punches, and he always talked about quitting boxing early and retiring undefeated, but as we all know that’s not what happened. Even after those fights with Frazier that took everything both men had in them, Ali kept fighting for years. I always thought it was because he needed the money, or the people around him were taking advantage of him and how much money they could make, and even though that might have partially been true, watching the Thrilla in Manila again made me realize something about Ali and Joe Frazier and real great fighters, it’s not about the money, it’s not about the fame, it’s not about the championships, the women, none of that, all of that is a byproduct of feeding that insatiable warrior spirit within those people. It’s why Ali was a true warrior who won the championship 3 times, even after showing signs of Parkinson’s, when he was younger he was faster than everyone so he slipped punches, when he was older he had more heart and grit than everyone and he was willing to take as much punishment as necessary to win the fights, and that’s literally why he was Ali.

Mike Tyson said “Ali looked like a model more than a fighter but he was more like a junkyard dog, he’s a Tyrannosaurus rex, he’ll take you to deep waters and drown you” simply because Ali refused to lose to anyone or anything.

The Rope-A-Dope sounds like a clever move till you realize how much punishment Ali’s body was taking by guys like George Foreman who broke peoples arms just by punching them. I don’t think Ali should have fought his last few fights, the doctors didn’t think Ali should have fought his last few fights, there’s people who say his Parkinson’s would have been avoidable if he didn’t fight people like Earnie Shavers, Larry Holmes or Trevor Berbick, who did more damage to him after what he had already went through with Joe Frazier, but the people who say that don’t understand that Ali wouldn’t have been Ali if he didn’t take those fights.

Ali had a warrior spirit that was more powerful than his mortal body, even if his body was exhausted he survived purely off his warrior spirit, in the ring and outside of it, and that’s what kept him going back to the ring, and that’s what keeps many great fighters going back past their prime, and its what keeps his name still ringing after his death, that energy and warrior spirit that inspires us, it’s his love of the game, the hunger, the ego, the passion, and that evolutionary drive.

Ali thought he was the greatest of all time, and that’s a fun catchphrase for the rest of us but the person who really believes that lives differently than everyone else, and it’s clear in how this man lived. Changing your name, refusing orders from the government, talking shit to the whole world, and backing up all your shit talk by beating people up, none of that is normal.

Ali frequently underestimated opponents, sometimes he ate as much as he wanted and didn’t train as much as he should have, and came to the ring out of shape, because on some level he really believed that he was so superior, that God was on his side, that there was really no way that he could lose and most of the time, he was right. That’s why he was willing to put his body through all that pain because he believed due to his greatness and his warrior spirit that he could endure and overcome anything. Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest humans who ever lived, i don’t think everything he did was the right course of action but it’s part of what makes him the greatest and I think his legend is only just starting and that he’s one of those people we’re gonna talk about forever because we still can’t get enough of the prettiest fighter who ever lived, Rest In Peace to the goat and Rest in Peace to the Legendary Smoking Joe Frazier.

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