By Steve Dawson
Like the straight man in a comedy act, Joe Frazier will always be remembered as the man who made Muhammad Ali look good - that is if being taken to the brink of death is what makes a man look good.
By the time Ali returned from exile after resisting the Vietnam War draft, Frazier had become the world heavyweight champion. Ali, the former champion, challenged him in March 1971 at New York's Madison Square Garden and Smokin' Joe handily outpointed him on all three judges' scorecards.
Let's not forget that while boxing is a sport to be won and lost, it is inherently also a fight, where one man sets out to hurt the other. Frazier did that too. He knocked Ali down in the 14th round with a left hook that carried all 205 lbs of Frazier's bodyweight. It smashed into Ali's jaw, breaking it and deforming his pretty face with a grotesque swelling, felling the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Frazier's reign as champion continued. He was no longer, as Ali had called him, the "alternate champion", merely filling the void left by Ali as he tackled an even greater fight for civil rights in 1960s America.
At that point, Frazier stood on top of the world, not only the world of 1971 but also the world of boxing history. It was though the highest point to which he would rise.
After two routine defenses, he would lose his title to George Foreman, victim of perhaps the most frightening knockdown the heavyweight championship has ever seen. The might of Foreman's clubbing left hook-cum-uppercut lifted Frazier off his feet after a curious spilt-second delay. There was no coming back from a loss this conclusive.
Foreman beat Frazier again in June 1976, but by this time both men had been crushed emotionally if not physically by Ali's charisma, talent and resolve.
Ali beat Frazier convincingly enough in their second fight but it was their third fight that will intrinsically link the two for all time and, sadly for Frazier, forever be Ali's coronation as The Greatest.
In that fight, the "Thrilla in Manila", Frazier and Ali took each other to the very brink of their own mortality.
In the minute's rest between rounds 14 and 15, Ali was ready to quit and indicated so to his corner. A friend of Frazier's was sitting close by and knowing that Frazier was also close to throwing in the towel, stood up frantically gesticulating to Frazier's corner to hold out for just a few more seconds.
However, unbeknown to all but Frazier and those closest to him, Smokin' Joe was as good as legally blind in one eye, a fact he'd kept quiet in order to retain his boxing license. Ali's signature straight left-right combinations had closed the other eye some rounds earlier and Frazier was effectively fighting without vision.
Despite Frazier's protestation, Eddie Futch, Frazier's trainer, refused to let his man go out for the fifteenth, with the chance that he might die at the hands of Ali. He threw in the towel and from that moment on Frazier would be defined first and foremost as the man who made Ali great.
As a personification, Ali is as much as boxing will ever be. Frazier is the gauge by which we make that assessment. With Frazier's death from liver cancer on Monday, a part of boxing has therefore died as well.
Steve Dawson presents Sportscenter on ESPN. His latest book How to Be The Greatest Like Muhammad Ali will be available shortly.