I have very vague memories from when I was a child of watching boxing during the 1950s on TV on Friday nights with my father.  Like everything else during the innocence of the 1950s, boxing seemed pure, simple, and uncomplicated by the hype generated by large egos and even larger paydays that typified boxing in later years.

I am most familiar with the boxing era that was defined by Muhammad Ali and his epic battles with the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman.   I was a little too young to have witnessed the fight with Sonny Liston that put Ali in the forefront of the boxing world.   I have read accounts that more than suggest that the famous knockout of Sonny Liston was from a phantom punch and that Liston took a dive.   I hope that these accounts are not true and that Ali was, in fact, one of the greatest.

Regardless of the truth about the defeat of Sonny Liston, it has to be acknowledged that Muhammad Ali changed the face of boxing and to some extent sports, in general.  He was the first boxing superstar who transcended his sport and through adept self-promotion and mastery of the media became a celebrity in his own right.   I mention all of this because the passing of Joe Frazier last month reminded me that without the cast of characters such as Frazier and Foreman, Ali may have played out his career on a less interesting stage and not have become the most famous boxer in history.

Joe Frazier was also a great boxer as evidenced by his defeat of Ali; however, he was still overshadowed by the talent, charisma, and theatrical genius that was Muhammad Ali.  Even so, Ali may not have become a legend without having Joe Frazier as his foil both in and out of the ring.  Life, like the movies, always seems to produce leading men who could not perform at their best without the supporting characters.   Joe Frazier, for me, will be remembered as one of those important supporting characters that helped make boxing and Muhammad Ali great.

Whether or not you are a boxing fan and with today’s lackluster and uninspiring boxers most of us are not, you can appreciate that even though Joe Frazier may have played second fiddle to Muhammad Ali he was still an integral part of an exciting era of boxing history.