Goodbye, Smokin’ Joe

My parents raised me, thankfully, with not only the usual girly activities such as piano lessons and Brownie meetings, but also with many unorthodox ones like shooting guns, horse racing and boxing matches.

I feel like a well-rounded woman.

Though I can’t really say that sitting squished between my mom, dad and brothers on hard basketball bleachers in a hot, crowded gymnasium with hundreds of smoking and cussing adults watching the late-night fights was exactly where I wanted to be as a little girl. But it did instill in me a love of sports stories, in general, and of boxing ones, in particular.

I watched my video of When We Were Kings, fascinated by the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, until I thought the tape would snap. And when I read The Guardian‘s play-by-play of the “The Fight of the Century” where Smokin’ Joe Frazier brought down the mountain that was Ali, I swear I can hear their muffled grunts. Their scuffling feet on the boxing ring floor.

Joe Frazier is directed to the ropes by referee Arthur Marcante after knocking down Muhammad Ali in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Photograph: AP

I was working at Voice of America’s China Branch in the early 2000s as a translator and audio producer when I heard that Mr. Frazier was actually in one of the television studios. I could almost smell the smoke and sweat of a hundred boxing fanatics.

Come on. Let’s go meet a legend, I whisper to my Chinese friend and colleague. Work can wait. History will not.

Looking quite dashing in his trademark black western-style hat, he couldn’t have been more gracious or surprised to hear me gush about my appreciation of him and his sport. And how my parents were not going to believe who I met today.

And when I shook his hand, he didn’t seem to mind that I held it much longer than is socially accepted, not wanting to let go of so much sports legend. So much history.


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