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Smokin’ Joe The Life of Joe Frazier By Mark Kram Jr

Release date: 07th August, 2019
Publisher: Blackstone

List Price: 20.00
Our Price: 15.99
You Save: 4.01 (20%)
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If it can be argued that the 1970s represented boxing’s golden age – and few would disagree – then it was the period’s greatest rivalry between Smokin’ Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali which defined the sport .

Despite this, Frazier received nowhere near sufficient acclaim for his status as the undisputed world heavyweight champion between 1970-73. He defeated Ali in 1971, lost the rematch and would fail to overhaul his bitterest rival in one of the greatest fights ever staged – the Thriller in Manila in 1975 – a contest that signalled the premature end of a glittering career. Frazier’s subsequent attempts at a comeback were effectively hamstrung before they began.

What made the rivalry between Frazier and Ali spicier was the fact that it was real. Frazier despised Ali and although there were several attempts at reconciliation, the pair remained barely civil to each other (in public at least) and avoided all showbiz-style attempts to make them appear bosom buddies.

In many respects, Ali certainly overshadowed, but also defined Frazier’s life to a great degree; the latter’s achievements were invariably set against those of the media-savvy Ali. Fortunately, Mark Kram’s excellent biography, Smokin’ Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier successfully presents the bull-like Frazier as a character in his own right. In this account, Ali is no more than an opponent in much the same way that George Foreman and Joe Bugner were.

Kram’s father, a writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote the excellent Ghosts of Manila which focused on the 1975 title fight, but Kram junior delves deeper into Frazier’s engrossing past.

Born in 1944, Joe, always known as ‘Billy Boy’, was the youngest of 13 children who witnessed and encountered extreme racial bigotry first hand in South Carolina. By the time he was 15, young Joe had had enough of share-cropping and headed north for Philadelphia where his boxing career began in earnest. Nine years later, he was a world champion.

Kram’s well-paced narrative is justifiably described as “a powerful story about race and class in America” and his willingness to set Frazier’s career in context makes for an outstanding read. This is biography at its very best: weaving sport into an often tempestuous contemporary political background, sprinkling it with other newsworthy items, many of which now feel decidedly historic, so adding texture and depth to a captivating tale.

You do not need to be a boxing fan to enjoy Smokin’ Joe. Frazier was a compelling figure who rose to the very top of his sport during one of the most fascinating phases of US history. That is Joe Frazier’s story: it has very little to do with his arch nemesis.

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