It is somewhat ironic that Joe Frazier died less than two weeks ago because today is the 41st anniversary of his first defense of the title he won in February 1970 — against light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in Detroit.
It was the 26th professional fight for Frazier, who won a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics, and it ended like the first 25 did — with a victory. It was his quickest triumph in a year and a half.
It was also his last fight before the first of Frazier's legendary trilogy of bouts with Muhammad Ali.
In hindsight, perhaps the Foster fight should have been something of a cautionary tale for Ali.
"Joe was a vicious wrecking machine against Foster," boxing trainer Emanuel Steward told the Detroit Free Press. "He was like an animal (in the ring)."
Frazier's performance against Foster certainly contributed to his reputation.
"Even for those born long after Frazier hung up the gloves, Smokin' Joe is a boxing legend," wrote Jake Emen for Yahoo! Sports when Frazier died earlier this month.
Emen wrote, as everyone does, that two of Frazier's fights with Ali — the "Fight of the Century" and the "Thrilla in Manila" — were the greatest two moments of his career, but he also mentioned Smokin' Joe's two–round triumph over Foster as being one of his "solid victories" between the fight in which he won the title and his first fight with Ali.
Frazier's fight with Foster, a Hall of Fame light heavyweight, was, indeed, a solid, workmanlike effort, finishing off his challenger in two rounds. The decisive punch was one of Frazier's trademark left hooks, and Foster couldn't beat the count.
For Smokin' Joe, the prelude to the chapter of his life's story that will always be remembered was over.
Next for Frazier would be the first of his bouts with Ali — the only one of the three that he won and the one that would secure his spot in boxing history as one of the great heavyweight champions of all time.