Joe Frazier vs. Jack Johnson

By George Thomas Clark on July 21, 2014
Joe Frazier vs. Jack Johnson
Come on, you didn't knock down Marvin Hart so you sure ain't putting me on the canvas.

Jack Johnson’s not taking any chances. He’s jabbing, and I’m chasing him like he’s the shyest girl at the dance…

You’re kidding, right, taking me back to 1905 San Francisco to watch Jack Johnson, a peacock with a mouth big as Clay’s, fight some guy named Marvin Hart who’s got a fat ass. And you think Hart will be heavyweight champion in a year and that Johnson, whose abrasiveness and lawbreaking ruined opportunities for two generations of black fighters, is one of the all-time greats. What I’m seeing now is a good boxer who doesn’t want to fight even though he’s got some slow pudgy guy in front of him. Johnson can jab him, he can bruise him some, but he can’t put him away. He can’t even control his nerves. The way Johnson’s acting, you’d think Marvin Hart’s big George Foreman. I can’t take it after about five rounds. I get up, and folks say, “Don’t go, big fella.”

“I’m not leavin’. I’m gettin’ in the ring.”

“I ain’t fightin’ two coons,” says Marvin Hart.

“You best control your mouth before I bust it.”

“Who the hell’re you?” Johnson asks.

“I’m Smokin’ Joe and a helluva lot tougher than you.”

“It’s not customary, Smokin’ Joe, to challenge boxers when they’re already engaged and have already been toiling several rounds.”

“I know. But I gotta go soon. So let’s get it on. Tell you what I’ll do. You guys sit down and rest while I warm up. Here, I’ll drop my drawers and fight you guys right now. I brought my shorts and cup just in case.”

The referee grabs me as I’m about to enter the ring so I jerk free and hit him with a left hook on the chin and he’s as asleep after one shot as Bob Foster was after two. Going about my business I grunt as I bob and weave around the ring, unloading left hooks like these guys have never seen. Each time I throw a hook I grunt louder, and stand in front of Hart’s corner, hooking, hooking, ducking, hooking, grunting, scaring the shit out of him and then I do the same in front of Johnson who smiles but it’s the smile of a man against a wall. You know damn well he’s never fought anyone like me. That isn’t fair, yeah. But a lot isn’t fair. I’d like to have more time to slaughter these hogs.

After ten straight minutes shadowboxing, I say, “Okay, who’s first?”

The promoter struts into the ring and says, “You look pretty good. We’ll put you on our next card.”

“Gotta be now. Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy.”

“Don’t bother,” says Marvin Hart who comes at me swinging serious leather. I won’t disrespect the man. He could’ve been one of my sparring partners. I protect him and don’t bury my left hook as deep into his ribs as I could have, only far enough to drop him to one knee, like Jerry Quarry in our second fight. Give Hart the proper training, and he’ll last a few rounds with Jerry. Tonight, he’s done, holding his side and wheezing until able to say, “When I’m fresh, I’ll get you.”

“Okay, Jack, you ready.” What a nice smile he has. 

Trust me, Jack Johnson’s not taking any chances with me. He’s jabbing, and mostly missing, and I’m chasing him like he’s the shyest girl at the dance.

“Come on, Jack. Don’t you wanna fight?”

I duck and move in and catch a right uppercut that about knocks my head through the ceiling. I grunt and pound my gloves together and keep moving in.  Come on, Jack, I smile, you didn’t knock down Marvin Hart so you sure ain’t putting me on the canvas. I left hook Jack to the ribs and he groans a little, and I keep left hooking downstairs, forcing him to use his right elbow to protect his ribs instead of uppercutting me. His right arm can’t feel too good. He keeps moving, sliding, jabbing, and I unload a big left – like the one that decked Clay in the fifteenth round of our first fight – but Jack pulls his head back and doesn’t take most of the blow. He’s pretty good. 

“It’s late and my rocket’s leaving,” I say. 

“What the hell?”

“Gotta go.”

“Next time we both start in round one.”

“You got it.”

“But remember, Smokin’ Joe, there’s not much money when Negroes fight each other.”

“That’ll change, Jack. That’ll change.”

George Thomas Clark is the author of several books, most recently Death in the Ring, a collection of boxing stories, and The Bold Investor, a short story collection. See the author’s website at www.GeorgeThomasClark.com.

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  1. Darrell 11:37pm, 07/23/2014

    Great laugh out loud article again…....the ridiculously improbable scenario and Smokin’ Joe’s utterly unintimidated personality, along with the unsurprisingly surprised reactions of the other main protagonists, make this a real fun read.  Somehow if the Joe Frazier of the 60’s/70’s had appeared in this time (1900-1910), he would probably morph into…....Jack Johnson, ha!

    That fight would’ve been a showpiece advertisement for the sport of boxing in any era, no doubts.  Not sure if Johnson could hack the pace of battle of a prime Frazier, or if Frazier finds himself tied up with his head bouncing from uppercuts…....Can anyone arrange it?!

  2. Eric 03:37pm, 07/23/2014

    GTC…Agreed that Hagler was a “natural” middleweight and “too strong” for Duran. Just saying that Marvin wasn’t a particularly “big” middleweight like Iran Barkley. Barkley was a “big” middleweight. When Duran fought Barkley, the size difference was huge, against Marvin, not so much. Remember Barkley would go on to fight heavyweight, even beating Coetzee, and going the distance with Berbick in the battle of the bulge.

  3. George Thomas Clark 02:34pm, 07/23/2014

    Eric - Foreman was not only muscular, he had an inherent gift for throwing ultra-powerful shots with both hands.

    Regarding Duran and Hagler - Look at the middleweights Hagler beat up and stopped.  Duran couldn’t have dominated the middleweight division for several years, as Hagler did.  Duran’s achievements were exceptional, his victories over Leonard and Iran Barkley being his two best, but Hagler would have beaten Duran 10 times out of 10.  He was too strong for Duran…

  4. Eric 12:45pm, 07/23/2014

    George was indeed a “huge” 217-220lb man, but a lot of “muscular” fighters always appear bigger. Remember when Duran fought Hagler, everyone was saying that Hagler was too big for Duran, when in fact there really wasn’t that much of a size differential. Hagler was maybe an 1 1/2” taller than Duran and maybe a couple of pounds heavier. Hagler would often weigh a couple of pounds under the 160lb limit. Despite Hagler’s “muscles,” he wasn’t that big of a middleweight. Lyle was almost identical to Foreman in height and weight, but Foreman appeared to be the bigger man because of his musculature. I saw a photo of “Big George” standing next to Vitali Klitschko, and you really see that George isn’t really that “big” as some would believe. Remember seeing Ali next to Andre the Giant, Andre made Ali look like a really small man. Fighters like Wepner, Roy Williams,  and Joe Bugner were just as large or larger than Foreman, they just didn’t possess the impressive physique of Foreman.

  5. Mike Casey 09:55am, 07/23/2014

    Yes, George, I think you are quite correct. Foreman - like Jeffries before him - had the rare ability of a big heavyweight in being stronger and able to punch above his weight. The punch with which he knocked out Moorer - and it seemed no more than a tap to most - was a classic.

  6. George Thomas Clark 09:39am, 07/23/2014

    Joe was hospitalized so long after the first Ali fight that it became quite ominous.  There was a great deal of secrecy and, even then, I feared he might be critically injured.

    I could not believe then, nor can I now, that gigantic George Foreman only with 217 pounds for the first Frazier fight.  He had to be the biggest 217-pounder in history.  He had the size, strength, and musculature of a 240-pounder.  George was a remarkable athlete, as he showed at age 44 when knocking out undefeated Michael Moorer to win his second heavyweight title.

  7. Mike Casey 09:11am, 07/23/2014

    Eric, I agree. Good summary! All the best - Mike

  8. Eric 06:16am, 07/23/2014

    Even though Foreman wasn’t destroying recognizable fighters, with the exception of Chuvalo and Peralta, you have to wonder why Frazier didn’t take the big guy serious. Despite the 3lb difference at the weigh in, Foreman at 6’3”-6’4”, was the much bigger, stronger man. Foreman came in at a very well conditioned 217lbs, while Frazier looked tubby at 214lbs. Frazier knew only one way to fight and he was going to need to have to outhustle and set a blistering pace while moving forward,  to wear out the bigger, stronger Foreman. Trying to overpower the bigger Foreman would be suicide, and the flabby Frazier just wasn’t up to setting that blistering pace he set March 8, 1971, when he was being compared to a heavyweight version of Henry Armstrong. Even though Frazier won that first fight with Ali, he certainly looked more like the loser rather than the victor, needing assistance leaving the ring, and his face looked like a gargoyle. Judging by the way the fighters looked after the fight, you wouldn’t have guessed that Frazier won a comfortable decision.

  9. Mike Casey 04:28am, 07/23/2014

    Having been there at the time, I could never understand why so little was said about the poor physical condition Joe was in against Foreman in Kingston. Frazier was 208lbs for Ali in the Fight of the Century and never hit that weight again. Foreman - aside from Chuvalo and Peralta - was knocking over nobodies and seemingly drifting in 1973. I think Joe thought he had an easy defense coming up. He was doing photo shoots with bunny girls during training and, to my mind, had clearly lost his drive and focus.

  10. Eric 08:36am, 07/22/2014

    Matt…Joe was never the same after the first Ali fight. The pre-Ali, Frazier, would’ve fared far better against Foreman. Look at Frazier’s two fights between Ali and Foreman. He took on a 191lb Terry Daniels(who would be one of the infamous 5 against Foreman a couple of years later) and limited Ron Stander. Frazier came in overweight and undertrained against both fighters. I think Joe weighed about 217lbs for Stander, and was even “shook” by Ron in the first or second round. Stander actually appeared physically stronger than Frazier. Of course, Frazier chopped up the crude Stander in the 4th round, but Frazier didn’t look particularly that good considering the quality of opposition he was facing. Ironically, Stander was never the same either, and would become an “opponent” for years to come, being butchered by Ken Norton a fews years later. After Foreman, Joe scraped by Bugner, was handled by Ali in the rematch, and managed a couple of repeat wins over equally washed up versions of Quarry & Ellis.

  11. Matt Atwater 08:08am, 07/22/2014

    Smokin Joe had already taken a lot of punishment before he got destroyed by big George! His best years were already behind him when they fought and I still think that at his best in his prime he’s too fast and smokin for big George! Frazier beats Johnson too in his prime, he never stopped moving and punching but when he slowed down a little that was it, he was done! He didn’t have the huge size where he could absorb a lot of punishment! But in his prime when he was smokin and bobbing and weaving and punching non stop! Forget about it! You didn’t have a chance!

  12. Eric 07:30am, 07/22/2014

    Frazier is looking dapper in a black tux with pink shirt while Black Jack looks like some homeless dude. Did Johnson borrow that lid from Stymie? Frazier by tko in 10 rounds.

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