A great champion demands a great nemesis. George Foreman gave Ali his greatest victory, a victory of tactics over power, but it was Joe Frazier who fought the champion’s defining battles.
Famously, Frazier was the first to hand Ali a defeat. To be a great nemesis, the possibility of victory must always be there. Smokin’ Joe always brought that possibility into the ring with him.
His intense, uncompromising style of fighting was always mesmerizing, unrelenting as a force of nature. He’d lean in and bring it to you. To defeat an opponent such as he required great power—which Foreman had—or greatness, which Ali had.
Without an opponent like Joe Frazier, and the grueling, magnificent battles he fought, Ali’s legend would be considerably less epic, less legendary. Somehow, they required each other.
Farewell, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, 1944-2011.