Lee Groves

10: Top Boxers with combined Olympic and pro success

9. Joe Frazier: When one speaks of “Philadelphia Fighters,” Frazier’s image is usually the first to pop to mind, which is ironic since “Smokin’ Joe” was actually a native of Beaufort, South Carolina. His relentless, never-say-die ring style was accompanied by arguably the greatest left hook any fighter ever owned and a vicious body attack that brought agony to the best generation the heavyweight division has ever seen. He was the definitive rival of Muhammad Ali in both ring style and personality and the dynamic between them resulted in a trilogy for the ages.

When compared to Ali, Frazier is usually relegated to a supporting role but his ring career apart from the man Frazier called “The Butterfly” is worthy of his Hall of Fame status.

Olympic career – Because Frazier lost to Buster Mathis Sr. in the U.S. trials, he traveled to Tokyo as an alternate. When Mathis suffered an injury Frazier stepped in and laid waste to the field. Uganda’s George Oywello was crushed in one round, as was Australia’s Athol McQueen. In the semifinal against the Soviet Union’s Vadim Emelyanov Frazier broke his left thumb but thanks to his competitive drive and rush of adrenaline he stopped Emelyanov shortly after incurring the injury in round two.

Frazier, now in the final against West Germany’s Hans Huber, kept the injury secret and did his best to treat it himself. Using his right hand much more than usual and firing his left hook just often enough to keep Huber honest, Frazier captured a 3-2 decision and the Olympic gold.

Professional career – Frazier’s fire and fury propelled him to a 32-4-1 (27) record but he is best remembered for his three-fight series with Ali. When both men were closest to their best in March 1971, it was Frazier who scored a final-round knockdown en route to a clear-cut decision victory. Opting out of the WBA elimination tournament brought about by Ali’s title stripping, Frazier knocked out old rival Mathis to win that belt and proceeded to defend it four times before knocking out tournament winner Jimmy Ellis to earn universal recognition. Between his victory over Mathis and his first defeat against Foreman, Frazier notched nine defenses of various heavyweight belts – a very respectable number.

He holds title-fight victories over Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry and Ellis (all of whom he beat a second time in non-title bouts) as well as Bob Foster and Ali. He fought his share of overmatched foes, and fittingly he blew them out (Dave Zyglewicz in 96 seconds, Manuel Ramos in two, Terry Daniels in four and Ron Stander in five). Other notable victories include Joe Bugner, George Chuvalo (one of only two men to stop Chuvalo, Foreman being the other), Doug Jones and Eddie Machen. 

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