I got a lot of feedback from the recent blog I wrote about a fantasy bout between the great Joe Louis and Mike Tyson. I figured I'd follow up with another fantasy fight between two of my favorite all-time heavyweights – Smokin' Joe Frazier (32-4-1, 27 Knockouts) against “The Lion” Lennox Lewis. (42-1-1, 32 Knockouts)
On paper, it should be an easy fight for Lewis. Lewis stood at 6'5 and had an 84-inch reach and one of the best jabs in heavyweight history when he committed to it. His uppercut and right hand helped him dominate the heavyweight division. Lewis could really crack, and was one of the best boxer-punchers of all time. The guy could box and counter well, but he could slug with the best of em' if pushed.
But Joe Frazier was also one of the best heavyweights of all time. He may have been undersized at 5'11 and 205 pounds during his peak years, but he used that lack of size to his advantage. He charged at his opponents, bobbing and weaving to slip their jabs and other punches, and then destroyed guys left and right with his brutal left hook. Even “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali was pushed to the brink by Joe Frazier in their three classic fights. He was knocked down and defeated by Frazier during their first encounter in 1971.
Before I get to the fight itself between these two, let's take a close look at tonight's contenders. We'll start with Smokin' Joe.
Smokin' Joe Frazier
There is a lot that people don't know about this legend. He was the first American heavyweight EVER to win a gold medal in the Olympics. (Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali won gold medals before him but they were fighting as light heavyweights at the time). Frazier unified the heavyweight championships during Ali's exile from boxing. And, Frazier was the third man to drop Muhammad Ali, landing one of the most devastating left hooks ever thrown in a boxing ring.
Frazier's deep-voiced trainer Yank Durham had him watch countless marathons of Henry Armstrong and Rocky Marciano fights. What these two had in common was that they were swarmers – guys who never stopped coming right at you. Swarmers are difficult to fight because they invade your personal space and force you to fight their fight. They don't give you the time or room to counter effectively. If you swing a hook or toss a jab, they'll weave past or under it and then attack you viciously.
Frazier was a perfect combination of both warriors – Frazier fought at Henry Armstrong's frantic pace, but had the devastating power of Rocky Marciano. The main differences between Frazier and Marciano was that Marciano (though gifted with two-handed power) was most famous for his right haymaker (The Suzy-Q) and Frazier preferred to demolish guys with his fierce left hook. Frazier also had quicker hands than Marciano, cut the ring better, and was more accurate with his punches making him more difficult to counter.
Frazier was at his best against the “stick and move” boxer-types like Muhammad Ali, Bob Foster, Jimmy Ellis and Buster Mathis. He mowed each of these guys down...each of these men went crashing to the ground after getting smashed by Frazier's fierce left hook. Of these men, only Muhammad Ali was able to get back to his feet and continue.
I'll talk more about this later, but one of Lewis' best punches was his uppercut. Keep in mind that when the great Muhammad Ali attempted to throw an uppercut at Joe, this happened.
However, Ray was no where near as accurate, fast or consistent as Frazier. In their fight, Ray would pummel Lewis, then slow down, then resume a round later. He gave Lewis plenty of chances to make comebacks and take control of the fight.
Also, Lewis had a bad habit of ducking into the blows of smaller opponents. Unlike Ali or The Klitschkos, Lewis didn't always use his height to full advantage. If your opponent is shorter than you, why duck down into his punches? When Lewis was unable to use his jab to control things and was forced to fight, he made this mistake often, especially against Mercer and Holyfield. It was be downright fatal to do this against Joe Frazier. See the picture below as a reference of Lewis ducking into Tyson's reach.
As far as the Tua comparison goes, Tua was roughly around the same height as Frazier and was known for finishing guys with a left hook from hell. Tua mentally submitted to Lewis during the early rounds when he felt that constant jab in his face and had issues getting inside of Lewis' reach. After getting cracked with an uppercut and taking a body punch to his already-injured ribs, Tua basically stopped fighting and let Lewis have his way. No way would this happen with Joe Frazier. Nothing would stop him from coming to Lewis.
The Left Hook From Hell...
Now let's talk about the Philadelphia left hook. Joe could launch it from any position. He may throw a double left hook- one to the body followed by another to the chin, or he may throw it after a right hand or right after a jab. You could never predict it. Joe said once that the left hook is the best punch in boxing because you can throw it without opening yourself up too much. Joe preferred to get close and land tight hooks, but when he had his man hurt and was ready to end things, that's when he'd leap off the mat to smash his opponent on the chin.
Frazier also loved to work the body. “Kill the body and the head will die.” That was a motto that worked for Joe Louis, and Frazier applied it to his style.
Frazier seemed to realize that he was vulnerable during the initial stages of fights, so he countered his opponents' punches with body assaults. As the rounds go by, all that punishment to the body will take its toll and slow his opponent down enough to where Joe would have an easier time cornering his victim and landing his dynamite. This is precisely what happened to Muhammad Ali in the Fight Of The Century and The Thrilla In Manilla. Ali swept the early rounds, but by the middle of the fights Joe's body punches had taken their toll on him and Ali could not move as well, allowing Joe to beat him up.
In my opinion the Thrilla In Manilla is what permanently ruined Ali's health. He was pissing blood after the fight and wasn't cleared by any doctors to fight after that. Shortly after this fight was when his speech started to slur. Frazier was an expert at cutting the ring and cornering his opponents, and he fought at the fast speed of Henry Armstrong, who was a middleweight. That's the pace Joe fought at. For a heavyweight to match a middleweight speed and do it consistently is nothing short of amazing.
Frazier rarely won fights by decision. As his knockout percentage shows, he knocked out most of his opponents. It was rare that guys could go the distance with Joe.
Also, while Joe had a good chin, he was dropped and/or wobbled a little too much. Oscar Bonavena knocked him down twice in their first fight (one more knockdown would have ended the fight) Jerry Quarry, Manuel Ramos, George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali (the 1974 rematch) all had Joe rocked early but couldn't finish him.
And most famously, Joe was destroyed by Big George Foreman in two fights. But what people don't give him credit for is that even though George dropped Joe 6 times in Jamaica, Joe got up 6 times too. He had a lot of heart, and it didn't matter how hard Foreman hit, Frazier refused to stay down and get counted out. He kept getting right back up and charging at George. If that ain't courage and heart, then I don't know what is.
Lennox may be a bit goofy but in the ring he was one of the most talented boxers in heavyweight history. He conquered guys from the era before him (Frank Bruno, Tony Tucker, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, etc) he dominated the guys from his own era (Tommy Morrison, David Tua, Andrew Golota, Michael Grant, Shannon Briggs, Ray Mercer, etc) and he defeated the man who succeeded him and ushered in the new era, Vitali Klitschko. In 1999, Lennox unified all four of the major heavyweight championship belts when he defeated an aging Evander Holyfield.
Lennox was widely feared. Riddick Bowe famously tossed the WBC title in the trash can rather than face him. Mike Tyson paid Lennox to “step aside” in 1996 so he could fight Evander Holyfield instead. Guys wanted no part of the hard-punching terminator from London, England.
Lennox, to me, fought like a much bigger, slower and less defined Joe Louis. After hiring Emanuel Steward as his trainer, Lennox developed a long telephone jab and relied less on his right hand. But facing Lewis would always be difficult because he could do it all – you never knew what style he'd use. He boxed perfect matches against Tommy Morrison, Hasim Rahman (rematch) and Mike Tyson, for example. He used his jab to disorient those guys and break them down for a few rounds, and then pulled the trigger once they were ready to go.
Other times, Lewis could be possessed by the spirit of Sonny Liston. He destroyed Andrew Golota, Francis Botha and Michael Grant within minutes. And if it was time to go to war, he did so against Ray Mercer, Evander Holyfield (rematch) and Vitali Klitschko. There was nothing Lennox couldn't do. Compare this to Joe Frazier, who was most effective fighting one way.
Against someone like Frazier, Lennox and trainer Emanuel Steward would have to adjust accordingly.
Against left-hook specialists like Morrison and Tua, Lewis held his right hand high the whole fight to protect his chin from the punch. Against Joe Frazier, this would not work because Joe attacked the body so relentlessly that Lewis would eventually drop his guard to protect his ribs, leaving himself exposed and wide open for Joe's left hook to go upstairs.
Muhammad Ali was the greatest escape artist ever, and Joe had no problem mowing him down. Lennox's mobility and hand speed were average at best, so attempting to run from Joe wouldn't be an option.
Lennox's best weapons against Joe would be his left jab and crushing uppercut. Joe was pretty damn good at bobbing and weaving past the jabs of his opponents. Even Muhammad Ali (one of the fastest jabbers in history) said he had problems landing his jab on Frazier in all three of their fights. Not to mention Joe would keep coming at Lennox. All Lennox has to do is miss one jab or two and Joe is already in his space pounding him with hooks to the ribs.
Lennox's uppercut would also leave himself exposed, and I already showed you earlier in this article what happened when Muhammad Ali attempted to launch an uppercut on Frazier. A tall man like Lennox has to drop his hand to attempt an uppercut, and that leaves him wide open for Joe's thunderous left hook counter to the chin. Once Joe finds his rhythm, almost any punch Lewis attempts would leave him open to get smashed by Joe's left hook somewhere.
Chinny Chin Chin
The next thing we gotta discuss here is the chin of Lennox Lewis. Lennox was suddenly knocked out twice in his career by guys he should have never lost to, but we have to examine these knockouts before deciding whether or not Lewis could survive Frazier's signature left hook finisher.
In 1994 against Oliver McCall, Lewis' balance was poor. His feet were standing wide apart and he was open, loading up a wild haymaker. McCall was shorter than Lewis and had shorter reach. He saw the haymaker coming, closed his eyes, and swung a right hand of his own. Naturally, his punch landed first, and Lewis went down. That knockout is controversial to this day because although Lewis was hurt, he still beat the count but the ref waved the bout off anyway. Imagine how different heavyweight history would be if the referee stopped the title match between Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott when Marciano got dropped in the first round?
Maybe McCall would have finished Lewis off? We'll unfortunately never know, but I think the heavyweight champion should always be given the benefit of the doubt in these situations.
The Hasim Rahman knockout was an absolute bomb that would have shattered many other heavyweight champions; not just Lewis. Lennox was bouncing off the ropes with a smile on his face when Rahman sprung into the air and threw the hardest punch of his life. Lewis saw the punch coming and had his guard up, but bounced right into the blow and went crashing to the canvas. He was absolutely devastated! Emancipated! Degregated!
I don't know what some of that even means.
These surprise knockouts were rare occurrences, however. Lewis fought some of the hardest punchers of his era and defeated each of them. Razor Ruddock, Tommy Morrison, David Tua, Lionel Butler, Shannon Briggs, Vitali Klitschko, etc. Some of these guys hit harder than Smokin' Joe, so you could argue that Lewis could absorb his hook, at least for some time, maybe. But on the other hand, Frazier would land punches on Lewis far more than these guys ever did. Like I said previously, once Frazier found his rhythm, he fights at a frantic pace. If Lewis could barely handle Mercer, one has to wonder how he'd fare against Frazier's assault?
Joe Frazier only lost to two men in his entire professional career. Those two men were the heavy-handed George Foreman and the sensational Muhammad Ali (who Frazier defeated once). That shows you how GREAT Frazier really was, because there is no shame in losing to Ali and Foreman, two of the best ever.
Lewis, as I discussed, dropped the championship twice to average, journeymen heavyweights. Both times a single blockbuster right hand was the cause. But Lewis convincingly defeated them in rematches (he made McCall cry, and annihilated Rahman with one of the best knockouts of his career). As a matter of fact, Lewis is one of the few boxers to defeat every opponent he ever fought.
Lennox was also a better heavyweight champion than Frazier was. Lewis rounded up 15 title defenses and was basically the last heavyweight standing by 2002 when Tyson finally fought him. Holyfield and Tyson's prime years were long gone during the '90s, so it was Lewis who dominated. Joe Frazier didn't do much as champion; he took easy fights after beating Ali and then was damn near killed by Foreman.
Given his hard punch, technical skill and size, Lennox is a serious threat to every heavyweight champion in history. Joe Frazier is also an all-time great. His bullying style and vaunted left hook brought him a lot of success in the ring, and he fought during the toughest era of heavyweight boxing ever; the 1970s. If Joe had fought in any other era, he may have never lost a fight.
Joe was always in great physical condition, even when he was past his prime. He took each fight seriously. Lennox had some off nights where he appeared out of shape and it hurt his performance, particularly the first Rahman fight and the Vitali Klitschko battle. But we're going to put him at his best here against Joe Frazier. We're matching up the 2002 Lennox Lewis that fought Tyson against the 1970-71 Joe Frazier who defeated Bob Foster and Muhammad Ali.
Who wins between the smoke and the lion?
I'll keep it short and sweet. Lennox wins this one. And early. I don't think Frazier survives to see round 3. Emanuel Steward would instruct Lennox to take full advantage of Joe's slow start and drop the heavy artillery early. Lennox could be an assassin when he wanted to be and he'd take no chances against Frazier.
IF Frazier got past the early rounds then he'd beat the crap out of Lewis over 9 rounds or so and eventually finish him with a bombastic left hook. No way could Lewis handle the pressure of pure, unadulterated Smokin' Joe Frazier.
But I honestly don't think he'd have to worry about it. Lewis would be able to use his reach to keep a slow-starting Frazier at a distance and blast him away with an uppercut like this one.
What do YOU think? Drop a comment. Let's continue the conversation below!