George Foreman’s crushing right uppercut connected for the first time in Round 1 and, suddenly, the heavyweight champion of the world was on the canvas. At ringside, the shocking sight sent Howard Cosell into a frenzy.
“Down goes Frazah! Down goes Frazah! Down goes Frazah!” Cosell screamed into his ABC television microphone.
Across the ring, Foreman was thinking one thing: Please don’t let Joe Frazier get up.
“I saw him get up and I said to myself, ‘Oh boy, he’s going to get me now,” Foreman recalled Tuesday. “You didn’t want him getting up, and you really didn’t want him getting up mad.”
Get up Frazier did, only to go down again and again. Six times in all before the bell could sound to end the second round.
Yet there he was still, out on his feet but still upright and ready for more. Frazier wasn’t going to surrender his heavyweight title until the referee mercifully put an end to the carnage in Jamaica.
“Joe Frazier wouldn’t back away from King Kong,” Foreman said. “Joe Frazier was one brave man.”
Brave enough to take on the fearsome and much bigger Foreman in a fight he seemed destined to lose. Brave enough to hand Muhammad Ali his first loss and then almost fight to the death with him in the Philippines.
But that’s what Frazier was. An undersized warrior who didn’t know how to back down. A fighter to the core.
Understand that, and you understood Joe Frazier.
He kept getting up when Foreman knocked him down. He kept trying to fight Ali even though one eye was swollen shut and he couldn’t see out of the other.
And he kept fighting for his rightful place in history until his death Monday night at age 67.
“His pride and dignity made him fight to the end,” Don King said. “Joe never forgave Muhammad Ali for what he did to him, but Joe Frazier proved that he wasn’t only a great fighter but a great man.”
I spent some time talking to Frazier earlier this year as he reminisced about his career and his life. The 40th anniversary of the Fight of the Century was looming, and Frazier was more than happy to talk about a memorable night long past.
No one in Madison Square Garden that night, it seemed, wanted him to beat Muhammad Ali.
But the fans that night saw Frazier do what no man had done before – beat the great Ali.
“I can’t go nowhere where it’s not mentioned,” Frazier said. “That was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life.”
Ali found a way to beat him in their final two fights, including a fight so epic that boxing people simply shake their heads when asked what happened at the Thrilla in Manila.
Ali put out a statement saying he would always remember Frazier with respect and admiration, something Frazier surely would have scoffed at.
“All he wanted to do was beat up Muhammad Ali one more time,” Foreman said. “Maybe someday in heaven he’ll have a chance to do it.”