There are those in life who are forever defined by the company they kept in life.
Always one half of an un-splittable whole, even after the whole split.
Lewis and Martin.
Abbot and Costello.
Ali and Frazier.
The last one not so much a pairing as a boxed set.
Or, in this case, ‘boxer’ set.
Hardly close. More like hardened combatants.
The charismatic Muhammad Ali versus the quiet puncher they simply called ‘Smokin' Joe.’
One, a media darling for his stance against a Vietnam War, outside the ring.
And the other, a not so media darling, because he simply preferred doing all ‘his’ talking ‘inside’ the ring.
But it was the ‘outside’ stuff that you could tell just made Joe stew on the ‘inside.’
Ali's non-stop stuff about Joe being an ‘Uncle Tom.’
Frazier seethed. Ali soared.
Until their first memorable fight in Madison Square Garden, when Frazier did something to Ali no one had ever, ever done.
That first bout considered one of the greatest and most watched events in sports history…actually a pay-per-view first.
There would be another, Ali would win.
And then perhaps the most brutal sanctioned combat between two men ever… they call ‘The Thrilla' in Manila.’
And so it would be written of these men's three violent exchanges…Ali 2, Frazier 1.
The multiple champ getting the better of the guy Ali once brutally called, just a chump.
A sting that never subsided, over the many years Joe Frazier and I talked.
For Frazier, past was past. He just wished a Parkinson’s-plagued Ali well.
But rivalries die hard, animosities harder.
Frazier would train his daughter Jacqui to challenge Ali's daughter Laila.
Laila won. Another damn Ali boxing best.
But by then in 2001 boxing was pretty much done.
From single champions everyone knew.
To an alphabet soup of title holders today most do not.
Frazier lamented the passing of an era…
In the end always the gladiator looking for more time in the ring.
No short-cuts, no excuses. No time for nonsense. Less time…for words.
Save these …today…from the man who forever taunted him in life…Muhammad Ali offering this simple praise for ‘Smokin' Joe’...in death.
"The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration."
Ali is not alone. Not by a boxing long shot.
Dead. At age 67.