Frazier gets his due, a bit too late

“He never got his due,” Sugar said on Tuesday when asked about the former world heavyweight champion, who fought three epic bouts with Ali in the 1970s and died late on Monday from liver cancer at age 67.

“People say Ali-Frazier, and the winner of that fight was Frazier,” Sugar said about their first clash in March of 1971, a battle of undefeated heavyweights at Madison Square Garden that left both boxers hospitalised.

“This is the day for Joe Frazier, who has always been the second slot to Muhammad Ali, even when he won. Today is the day when he stands up as his own and he’s Joe Frazier, period, paragraph, and he can stand up to anybody on his own,” he said. Boxing promoter Bob Arum said the three bouts between the fighters stood as a hallmark in sport.

“He gave the world what had to be one of the most thrilling trilogies in any sport,” he said about Frazier’s bouts against Ali. “There was nothing like it in this country and in the world for the attention those fights received.”

Ali returned after a three-year exile imposed after he refused induction for the Vietnam War due to his Muslim beliefs to face Frazier and the build-up was intense.

“I think the first, certainly was the biggest event I ever covered. It seemed like the world stopped in anticipation of it,” HBO fight commentator Larry Merchant said in a phone interview from his California home.

“It was building up for several years, two heavyweight champions. Ali in exile.
“And then to have the fight and the drama exceed the highest expectations, was a once-in-a-half-century, thrilling event.”

Some diminish Frazier in historical terms because his career ebbed after his three epic fights against Ali. “It is no surprise that after that night of greatness, he was never the same,” Wally Matthews wrote for espn.com about Frazier’s ferocious victory in their first fight. 

“But to knock Frazier for being unable to match the greatest athletic performance ever seen at Madison Square Garden is like criticizing Michelangelo for being unable to sculpt another David.”

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