Joe Frazier Was Never As Cool As Muhammad Ali

Should we feel bad about that now that Joe's gone?

You had to like Ali more than Frazier. Otherwise they’d confiscate your cool card.

Ali was smooth, dangerous, a revolutionary. He changed his name and his identity. He wrote poems and resisted the draft. He danced and jabbed and made us laugh. “I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he would say, and boy was he speaking some truth. Ali meant many different things to many people, wrote David Remnick, one of his many biographers: He was “a symbol of faith, a symbol of conviction and defiance, a symbol of beauty and skill and courage, a symbol of racial pride, of wit and love.” He was, in other words, a man for our personal favorite seasons.

Frazier—well, nothing too complex about old’ Joe.

He didn’t talk so good or say anything that sounded exactly smart or clever, and he sure wasn’t real pretty. Target practice for Ali, is what he was.

”Frazier so ugly he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wild Life.”

“Frazier so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”

Bam, bambambam.

Where Ali went, money followed. So did TV ratings. And the famous. Look at the old photos of Ali with Sinatra, Elvis, Richard Pryor. Look at those smiles. They feeling the magic, or what?

Frazier’s big celebrity hang? Frank Rizzo. He even campaigned for him. Really, Joe? Frank Rizzo? Seriously?

Ali lived across the bridge for a time. He was an honorary Philadelphian for a while there. We’d often see him. We wanted him here all the time, and for all time, but Ali wasn’t built for geographic boundaries.

Instead we got Joe. He was from Carolina, but here is where he was. He had a house in Whitemarsh and a gym on North Broad. Need a celebrity? Joe would show up for a fire hydrant opening. He’d headline benefits and bring his band, Joe Frazier and the Knockouts with him. Couldn’t sing a lick, even on the made-for-karaoke Motown covers.

Joe didn’t care. He knew everyone was looking at the Knockouts.

Smoke should have lived longer—he was just 67. But it seemed like he was here forever. And it took every minute of that forever for us to like Joe—really like Joe.

But like him we did, eventually.

Time helped us see. Joe couldn’t be mean, which is why he could never understand Ali.

And though Ali was plenty cool, he sometimes hung with crooks and really nasty characters when he lived in our midst. We knew it, but mostly refused to see.

We were rope-a-doped, blinded by fancy footwork, looking to be cool and not the fool.

No question: Ali was the greatest. There will never be another. He belongs to the world. He was human.

And Joe was no chump.

Ali once said he would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Joe didn’t say much during his time on earth that will be remembered through the ages. He just put his head down and jabbed.

He said this though: “Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.” Smart as anything Ali ever said, and rife with truth.

Like his adopted city, Joe took a lot of punishment but kept moving forward, refusing to be knocked down. You can’t help but eventually like a guy like that.