A brief overview.
Joseph William Frazier otherwise known as “Smokin’ Joe” was an American professional boxer who competed from 1965 to 1981. He reigned as the undisputed heavyweight champion from 1970 to 1973 and won a gold medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics as an amateur. Frazier was known for his strength, durability, formidable punching power and relentless pressure fighting style.
Frazier emerged as the top contender in the late 1960s defeating opponents that included Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Buster Mathis, Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo and Jimmy Ellis en-route to becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion in 1970 and followed up by defeating Muhammad Ali by a unanimous decision in the highly anticipated Fight of the Century in 1971. Two years later Frazier lost his title when he was defeated by George Foreman however, he fought on beating Joe Bugner, losing a rematch to Ali and beating Quarry and Ellis again.
Frazier’s last world title challenge came in 1975 but he was beaten by Ali in their brutal rubber match the Thriller in Manila. He retired in 1976 following a second loss to Foreman. He made a comeback in 1981 fighting just the once before retiring for good. Joe finished his career with a record of 32 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw. The International Boxing Research Organisation rates Frazier among the ten greatest heavyweights of all time. The Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Year in 1967, 1970 and 1971 while the Boxing Writers Association of America named him Fight of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1975.
In 1999 The Ring Magazine ranked him the eighth greatest heavyweight and BoxRec ranks him as the 18th greatest heavyweight of all time. Joe is an inductee of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Joe’s style was often compared to that of Henry Armstrong and occasionally Rocky Marciano dependent on bobbing, weaving and relentless pressure to wear down his opponents. His best -known punch was a powerful left hook which accounted for most of his knockouts. In his career he lost to only two fighters, both former Olympic and world heavyweight champions, twice to Muhammad Ali and twice to George Foreman.
After retiring from the sport Frazier made cameo appearances in several Hollywood movies and two episodes of The Simpsons. His son Marvis also became a boxer trained by Frazier himself but Marvis was knocked out in the first round by an up and coming Mike Tyson in 1986. Marvis’s career ended with a record of 19 wins and 2 losses. Joe’s daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde also boxed professionally and is a former WBA world light heavyweight champion, her career ended with a record of 13 wins and 1 loss. That sole loss coming in a majority decision points loss to Laila Ali the daughter of Muhammed Ali in a fight dubbed as “Ali – Frazier IV”.
Joe continued to train fighters in his gym in Philadelphia and his attitude towards Muhammed Ali in later life was largely characterised by bitterness and contempt, interspersed with brief reconciliations.
Unfortunately, Frazier was diagnosed with liver cancer in late September 2011 and was admitted to hospice care and he died of complications from the disease on 7th November 2011.
From the beginning.
Joseph William Frazier “Smokin” Joe was the 12th child born to parents Dolly Alston-Frazier and Rubin in Beaufort, South Carolina and he was raised in a rural community of Beaufort called Laurel Bay. Joe said he was always close to his father who carried him when he was a toddler “over the 10 acres of farmland” the Frazier’s worked as sharecroppers “to the still where he made his bootleg corn liquor, and into town on Saturday’s to buy the necessities that a family of 10 needed”. Young Frazier was affectionately called “Billie Boy”.
Joe’s dad Rubin had his left hand burned and part of his forearm amputated in a tractor accident the year his son was born. Rubin and his wife Dolly had been in their car when Arthur Smith, who was drunk passed by and made a move for Dolly but was rebuffed. A local barkeep, Stefan Gallucci, recounted the experience. When the Frazier’s drove away Smith fired at them several times hitting Dolly in the foot and Rubin several times in the arm. Smith was convicted and sent to prison but didn’t stay long. Dolly Frazier said “if you were a good workman, the white man took you out of jail and kept you busy on the farm”. Frazier’s parents worked their farm with two mules named Buck and Jenny. The farmland was what country people called “white dirt” which is another way of saying it isn’t worth a damn”. They couldn’t grow peas or corn on it, only cotton and watermelons.
In the early 1950’s Joe’s father bought a black and white television. The family and others nearby came to watch the boxing matches on it and Frazier’s mother sold drinks for a quarter as they watched boxers like Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep and Rocky Graziano. One-night Frazier’s Uncle Israel noticed his stocky build. “That boy there, that boy is going to be another Joe Louis” he remarked. The words made an impression on Joe and his classmates at school would give him a sandwich or a quarter to walk with then at final bell so that bullies would not bother them. Frazier said “any ‘scamboogah’ (a disrespectful, low down and foul person) who got in my face would soon regret it. Billie Boy could kick anybody’s ass”. The day after his Uncle’s comment, Frazier filled old burlap sack with rags, corncobs, a brick and Spanish moss. He hung the makeshift heavy bag from an oak tree in the back yard. “For the next 6,7 years damn near every day I’d hit that heavy bag for an hour at a time. I’d wrap my hands with a necktie of my daddy’s or a stocking of my momma’s or sister’s and get to it” Joe remarked.
Not long after Joe started working, his left arm was seriously injured while he was running from the family’s 300-pound hog. One day Frazier poked the hog with a stick and ran away however, the gate to the pigpen was opened and the hog chased him. Joe fell and hit his left arm on a brick. His arm was torn badly but as the family couldn’t afford a doctor the arm had to heal on its own. Joe was never able to keep it fully straight again.
By the time Joe was 15 years old he was working on a farm for a family named Bellamy. They were both white men, Mac was the younger of the two and more easy-going and Jim who was a little rougher and somewhat backward. One day a little boy of about 12 years old accidentally damaged one of the Bellamy’s tractors and Jim Bellamy became so enraged he took off his belt and whipped the boy with his belt right there in the field. Joe saw the event and went to the packing house on the farm and told his black friends what he had seen.
It wasn’t long before Jim Bellamy saw Joe and asked him why he told what he had witnessed, Joe then told Bellamy he didn’t know what he was talking about but Bellamy didn’t believe Joe and told Joe to get off the farm before he took off his belt again. Joe told him he’d better keep his pants up because he wasn’t going to use his belt on him. Jim then analysed Joe for a bit and eventually said “go on, get the hell outta here”. Joe knew from that moment it was time for him to leave Beaufort, he could only see hard times and low-rent for himself and even his Momma could see it. She told Joe “son, if you can’t get along with the white folks then leave home because I don’t ant anything to happen to you”.
The train fare from Beaufort to the cities up north were costly and the closest bus stop was in Charleston, 75 miles away. Luckily by 1958 the bus (The Dog as called by the locals in Beaufort) had finally made Baeufort a stop on its South Carolina route.
Joe had a brother, Tommy who lived in New York. He was told he could stay with Tommy and his family so, Joe had to save up a bit before he could make the bus trip to New York and still have some money in his pocket. Joe first went to work at the local Coca-Cola plant and he remarked that the white guy would drive the truck and he would do the real work, stacking and unloading the crates. Joe stayed with Coca-Cola until the government began building houses for the marines stationed at Parris Island at which time he was hired on a work crew.
Nine months eventually passed since he got the boot from the Bellamy farm and one day, with no fanfare, no tearful goodbyes, Joe packed quickly and got the first bus heading northward. Joe finally settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania saying “I climbed on the Dog’s back and rode through the night. It was 1959, I was 15 years old and I was on my own”.
During Joe’s amateur career he won the Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championships in 1962, 1963 and 1964. His only loss in three years as an amateur was to Buster Mathis. Mathis proved to be Joe’s biggest obstacle to making the 1964 U.S Olympic Boxing Team. They met in the final of the U.S Olympic Trials at the New York World’s Fair in the summer of 1964. Their fight was scheduled for three rounds and they fought with 10 oz gloves and with headgear even though the boxers who made it to Tokyo would wear no headgear and would wear 8 oz gloves. Joe was eager to get back at Mathis for his only amateur loss and KO’d two opponents to get to the finals. But once again when the dust settled, the judges had called it for Mathis, undeservedly Joe thought. “All that fat boy had done was run like a theif – hit me with a peck and backpedal like crazy”. Remarked Joe.
Mathis had worn his trunks very-high so that when Joe hit him with legitimate body shots the referee took a dim view of them. In the second round the referee had gone so far as to penalize Joe two points for hitting below the belt. “In a three round bout a man can’t afford a points deduction like that” Joe said. Joe then returned to Philadelphia feeling as low as he’d ever been and was even thinking of giving up boxing. Duke Dugent and his trainer Yank Durham were able to talk Joe out of his doldrums and even suggested Joe make the trip to Tokyo as an alternate in case something happened to Mathis. Joe agreed and while he was there he was a workhorse, sparring with any of the Olympic boxers who wanted some action. “Middleweight, light heavyweight, it didn’t matter to me, I got in there and boxed all corners” Joe said. In contrast Mathis was slacking off and in the morning when the Olympic team would do their roadwork, Mathis would run a mile and then start walking saying “go ahead big Joe, I’ll catch up”. Frazier’s amateur record was 38-2.
Onto the Summer Olympics in 1964 and heavyweight representative Buster Mathis qualified but was injured so Frazier was sent as a replacement. At the heavyweight boxing event Frazier knocked out George Oywello of Uganda in the first round and then knocked out Athol McQueen of Australia 40 seconds into the third round. He was then into the semi final as the only American boxer left facing the 6 ft 2 214 lb Vadim Yemelvanov of the Soviet Union.
Joe said in an interview “my left hook was a heat-seeking missile, careening off his face and body time and again. Twice in the second round I knocked him to the canvas but as I pounded away I felt a jolt of pain shoot through my left arm. Oh damn, the thumb”. Joe knew immediately the thumb of his left hand was damaged though he wasn’t sure to what extent. “In the midst of the fight with your adrenaline pumping, it’s hard to gauge such things. My mind was on more important matters like how I was going to deal with Yemelyanov for the rest of the fight”. The match ended when the Soviet’s handlers threw in the toel as 1:49 in the second round and the refer raised Joe’s injured hand in victory.
Now that Joe was in the final he didn’t mention his broken thumb to anyone. He went back to his room and soaked his thumb in hot water and Epsom Salts. “Pain or not. Joe Frazier of Beaufort, South Carolina was going for gold”. Joe proclaimed. Joe would fight a 30 year old German mechanic called Harris Huber who failed to make it on the German Olympic wrestling team.
By now Joe was used to fighting bigger guys but he was not use to doing it with a damaged left hand. When the opening bell sounded on fight night Joe came out and started swinging punches, he threw his right hand more than usual that night. Every so often he’d used his left hook but nothing landed with the kind of impact he managed in previous bouts. He won a 3-2 decision.
After Frazier won the USA’s only 1964 Olympic boxing gold medal. His trainer Yancey “Yank” Durham helped put together Cloverlay, a group of local businessmen which included a young Larry Merchant who invested in Frazier’s professional career and allowed him to train full time. Durham was Frazier’s chief trainer and manager until Durham’s death in August 1973. Joe turned professional in 1965 defeating Woody Goss by a technical knockout in the first round. He won three more fights that year all by knockout, none going past the third round. Later that year he was in a training accident where he suffered an injury which left him legally blind in his left eye. During pre-fight physicals after reading the eye chart with his right eye, when prompted to cover his other eye Frazier switched hands but covered his left eye for a second time and the state athletic commission physicians didn’t seem to notice or act on this.
Joe’s second contest was of interest in that he was decked in round 1 by Mike Bruce. Frazier took an 8 count by referee Bob Polis but tallied for a TKO over Bruce in round three. In 1966 as Frazier’s career was taking off, Durham contacted Los Angeles trainer Eddie Futch. The two men had never met but Durham had heard of Futch through the latter’s reputation as one of the most respected trainers in boxing. Frazier was sent to Los Angeles to train before Futch agreed to join Durham as an assistant trainer. With Futch’s assistance Durham arranged three fights in Los Angeles against journeyman Al Jones., veteran contender Eddie Machen and George “Scrap Iron” Johnson. Frazier knocked out Jones and Machen but surprisingly went 10 rounds with journeyman Johnson to win a unanimous decision.
Johnson had apparently bet all his purse that he’d survive to the final bel noted Ring Magazine and some-how he achieved it but Johnson was known in the trade as “impossibly durable”.
After the Johnson fight Futch became a full-fledged member of the Frazier camp as an assistant trainer and strategist who advised Durham on matchmaking. It was Futch who suggested that Frazier boycott the 1967 WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament to find a successor to Muhammed Ali after the heavyweight champion was stripped of his title for refusing to be included into the military although Frazier was the top-ranked contender at the time.
Futch proved to be invaluable to Frazier as an assistant trainer helping to modify his style. Under his tutelage, Frazier adopted the bob-and-weave defensive style making him more difficult for taller opponents to punch, while giving Frazier more power with his own punches. While Futch remained based in Los Angeles where he worked as a supervisor with the US Postal Service he was flown to Philadelphia to work with Frazier during the final preparations for all his fights.
Durham died of a stroke on 30th August 1973 and Futch was asked to succeed him as Frazier’s head trainer and manager, as the same time he was training heavyweight contender Ken Norton. Norton lost a rematch against Ali less than two weeks after Durham’s death. At that point Norton’s managers, Robert Biron and Aaron Rivkind demanded that Futch choose between training Frazier and Norton with Futch choosing Frazier.
Into the mid to late 60’s now and in his second year September 1966 and somewhat green, Frazier won a close decision over rugged contender Oscar Bonavena despite Bonavena flooring him twice in the second round. A third knockdown in that round would have ended the fight under the three knockdown rule. Frazier rallied and won a decision after 12 rounds. The Machen win followed this contest.
In 1967 Frazier stormed ahead winning all six of his fights including a sixth round knockout of Doug Jones and a brutal fourth round (TKO) of Canadian George Chuwalo. No boxer had ever stopped Chuwalo before, although Frazier, despite the stoppage was unable to floor Chuwalo who would never be dropped in his entire career despite him fighting countless top names.
Joe had scored 14 wins by February 1967 and his star was beginning to rise. This culminated with his first appearance on the cover of The Ring Magazine. In this month he met Ali who hadn’t yet been stripped of his title. Ali said Joe would never stand a chance of “whipping” him not even in his wildest dreams. Later that year Muhammed Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title due to his refusal to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam War.
To fill the vacancy, the New York State Athletic Commission held a bout between Frazier and Buster Mathis both undefeated, going into the match with the winner to be recognised as “World Champion” by the state of New York. Although the fight was not recognised as a World Championship bout by some, Frazier won by a knockout in the 11th round and staked a claim to the Heavyweight Championship. He then defended his claim by beating hard-hitting prospect Manuel Ramos of Mexico in just two rounds.
Joe closed 1968 by beating Oscar Bonavena again via a 15 round decision in a hard-fought rematch. Bonavena fought somewhat defensively allowing himself to be often bullied to the ropes which let Frazier build a wide points margin. The Ring Magazine showed Bonavena afterwards with a gruesomely bruised face. It had been a punishing bout. 1969 saw Frazier defend his NYSAC title in Texas beating Dave Zwglewicz who only lost once in 29 fights by a first round knockout.
He then beat Jerry Quarry in a 7th round stoppage and the competitive, exciting match with Quarry was named 1969 The Ring Magazine Fight Of The Year. Frazier showed he could do a lot more than just slug. He had used his newly honed defensive skills to slip, bob and weave a barrage of Quarry punches despite Quarry’s reputation as an excellent counter-punching heavyweight.
On 16th February 1970, Frazier faced the WBA Champion Jimmy Ellis at Madison Square Garden. Ellis had outpointed Jerry Quarry in the final bout of the WBA elimination tournament for Ali’s vacated belt. Frazier had himself declined to participate in the WBA tournament to protest their decision to strip Ali. Ellis held an impressive win over Oscar Bonavena among others. Beforehand, Ali had announced his retirement and relinquished the heavyweight title allowing Ellis and Frazier to fight for the undisputed title. Frazier won by TKO when Ellis’s trainer Angelo Dundee would not let him come out for the 5th round following two 4th round knockdowns, the first knockdowns of Ellis’s career. Frazier’s decisive win over Ellis was a frightening display of power and tenacity.
In his fight title defence Frazier travelled to Detroit to fight World Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster who would go on to set a record for the number of title defences in the light heavyweight division. Frazier (26-0) retained his title by flooring Foster twice in the second round. The second knockdown was delivered by a devastating left hook and Foster could not beat the count.
Then came what was hyped as the “Fight Of The Century”, his first fight with Muhammed Ali who had launched a comeback in 1970 after a three year suspension from boxing. This would be the first meeting of two undefeated champions (and last until Mike Tyson faced Michael Spinks in 1988), since Ali (31-0) had not lost his title in the ring but rather been stripped because of his refusal to be conscripted into the armed forces, some considered him to be the true champion. This fight was to crown the one and only true heavyweight champion.
On the 8th March 1971 Frazier and Ali met for the first of their three fights at Madison Square Garden. The bout was named as “Fight Of The Century”. With an international television audience and an in-house audience that included singers and actors and with Burt Lancaster (who served as “color commentator” with fight announcer Don Dunphy) the two undefeated heavyweights met in a media-frenzied atmosphere reminiscent of Joe Louis youth.
There were several factors that came together for Frazier in this fight. He was 27 years old and mentally and physically at his peak, Ali was 29 and was coming back from a three year absence but had kept active. He had had two good wins including a bruising battle with Oscar Bonavena whom Ali had defeated by a TKO in 15 rounds. Frazier worked on strategy with coash Eddie Futch and they noted Ali’s tendency to throw a right-hand uppercut from a straight standing position after dropping the hand in preparation to throw it with force. Futch instructed Frazier to watch Ali’s right hand and at-the-moment Ali dropped it, Frazier was to throw a left hook at the spot where they knew Ali’s face would be a second later. Frazier staggered Ali in the 11th round and knocked him down in the 15th in this way.
In a brutal and competitive contest Frazier lost the first two rounds but was able to withstand Ali’s combinations. Frazier was known to improve in the middle rounds and this was the case with Ali. Frazier came on strong after round three landing hard shots to the body and powerful left hooks to the head. Ultimately Frazier won a 15 round unanimous decision, 9-6, 11-4 and 9-6. Ali was taken to hospital immediately after the fight to check that his severely swollen right-side jaw wasn’t actually broken. Frazier also spent time in hospital during the ensuing month, the exertions of the fight having been exacerbated by hypertension and a kidney infection.
Later in the year he fought a 3 round exhibition against hard hitting veteran contender Cleveland Williams. In 1972 Frazier successfully defended the title twice, beating Terry Daniels and Ron Stander both by knockout. In the fourth and fifth rounds respectively, Daniels had earlier drawn with Jerry Quarry and Stander had knocked out Ernie Shavers.
Frazier lost his undefeated record of 29-0 and his world championship at the hands of the unbeaten George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica. Despite Frazier being the overall favourite, Foreman towered 10 cm (4 inches) over the more compact champion and dominated the fight from the start. Two minutes into the first round Foreman knocked Frazier down for the first time. After he was knocked down a sixth time in the second round referee Arthur Mercante Snr stopped the bout. Frazier won his next fight which was a 12 round decision over Joe Bugner in London to begin his quest to regain the title.
Joe’s second fight with Ali took place on the 28th January 1974 in New York City. In contrast to their previous meeting the bout was a non -title fight and Ali won a 12 round unanimous decision. This fight was notable for the amount of clinching. Five months later and Joe battled again with Jerry Quarry in Madison Square Garden, winning the fight in the fifth round with a strong left hook to the ribs. The following year in March 1975 Frazier fought in a rematch with Jimmy Ellis in Melbourne, Australia knocking him out in nine rounds. This win established Frazier again as the number one heavyweight challenger for the title which Ali had won from George Foreman in the famous fight “Rumble in the Jungle” five months earlier.
On the 1st October 1975 Ali and Frazier met for the third and final time in Quezon City which is a district of Manila in the Philippines. Prior to the fight Ali took opportunities to mock Frazier by calling him a “gorilla” and generally trying to irritate him. The fight was a punishing display on both sides under oppressively hot conditions.
During the fight Ali said to Frazier “they said you were through Joe” Frazier said “they lied”. Ali repeatedly held Frazier around the back of his neck with his right hand, a violation of the rules which went unpunished by the referee. After 14 gruelling rounds Futch stopped the fight with Frazier having a closed left eye and almost closed right eye and a cut. Later, Ali said it was the “closest thing to dying that I know of” and in 1977 Ali told interviewer Reg Gutteridge that he felt this fight with Frazier was his best performance. When Gutteridge suggested his win over Cleveland Williams, Ali said “no, Frazier’s much tougher and rougher than Cleveland Williams”.
Frazier fought big George Foreman for a second time in 1976 with his shaved head as the new image. Joe fought well enough, somewhat more restrained than usual, avoiding walking onto the big shots which he had done in their first match. However, Foreman awaited his moment and then lobbed in a tremendous left hook that lifted Frazier off his feet and after a second knockdown it was stopped in the fifth round. Shortly after the fight Frazier announced his retirement.
Joe made a cameo appearance in the movie Rocky later in 1976 and dedicated himself to training local boxers in Philadelphia where he grew up including some of his own children. He also helped train Duane Bobick.
In 1981 Joe attempted a comeback to the sport. He drew over 10 rounds with hulking Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings in Chicago, Illinois. It was a bruising battle with mixed reviews and after that he retired for good.
After that, Joe involved himself in various endeavors. Among his sons who turned to boxing as a career he helped train Marvis Frazier, a challenger for Larry Holme’s world heavyweight title and trained his daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde who became a WBA world light heavyweight champion and whose most notable fight was a close majority decision points loss against Laila Ali, the daughter of his rival.
Frazier’s overall record was 32 wins with 4 losses and 1 draw with 27 wins by knockout. He won 73 percent of his fights by knockout, compared to 60 percent for Ali and 84 percent for Foreman. He was a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
In 1984 Frazier was the special referee for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship match between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes at Starrcade ’84, awarding the match to Flair due to Rhodes excessive bleeding.
In 1988 Frazier appeared as the “cornerman” for Mr T against Roddy Piper at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum as part of Wrestlemania 2.
In 1989 Frazier joined Ali, Foreman, Norton and Holmes for the tribute special Champions Forever. Frazier was inducted into the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame in 1996.
Joe has appeared a number of times as himself on television starting off on an episode of The Simpsons, “Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?” in 1992. He was suppose to have been beaten up by Barney Gumble in Moe’s Tavern but Frazier’s son objected and so Frazier was instead shown beating up Gumble and putting him in a trash can. Frazier appeared in another episode of The Simpsons, “Homer’s Paternity Cool” in 2006. Joe appeared on screen in the 8th series of The Celebrity Apprentice (USA) television show as a guest attendee at a Silent Auction event held for the season finale (won by Joan Rivers). Frazier also appeared as himself in the Academy Award winning 1976 movie, Rocky. Since the debut of the Fight Night series of games made by EA Sports, Frazier appeared in Fight Night 2004, Fight Night Round 2, Fight Night Round 3, Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion.
Joe has also released his autobiography in March 1996 entitled “Smokin’ Joe The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
Frazier promoted the book with a memorable appearance on The Howard Stern Show on the 23rd January 1996.
He also wrote Box like the Pros, a complete introduction to the sport including the game’s history, rules of the ring, how fights are scored, how to spar, the basics of defence and offence, the fighter’s workout, a directory of boxing gyms and much more. Box Like the Pros is an instruction manual, a historical reference tool and in insider’s guide to the world’s most controversial sport.
According to an article from The New York Times, “Frazier had lost a fortune over the years through a combination of his own generosity and naivete, his carousing and failed business opportunities. The other headliners from his fighting days – Ali, George, Foreman and Larry Holmes – are millionaires”. When asked about his situation he playfully became defensive but would not reveal his financial status. “Are you asking me how much money I have?” he said. “I got plenty of money, I got a stack of $100 bills rolled up over there in the back of the room”. Frazier blamed himself partly for not effectively promoting his own image and in a 2006 documentary on the fight in Manila, Frazier was interviewed living in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor of his gym.
Joe’s daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde is a lawyer and worked on behalf of her father in pursuit of money they claimed he was owed in a Pennsylvania land deal in 1973. Joe purchased 140 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for $843,000. Five years later a developer agreed to buy the farmland for $1.8 million, Frazier received annual payments from a trust that bought the land with money he had earned in the ring. However, when the trust went bankrupt the payments ceased.
Frazier sued the business partners insisting his signature had been forged on documents and he had no knowledge of the sale. In the ensuing years the 140 acres were subdivided and turned into a residential community. The land is now worth an estimated $100 million.
Initially Frazier and Ali were friends. During Ali’s enforced three-year lay off from boxing for refusing to be drafted into the US Army, Frazier lent him money, testified before Congress and petitioned U.S. President Richard Nixon to have Ali’s right to box reinstated. Frazier supported Ali’s right not to serve in the army saying “if Baptists weren’t allowed to fight, I wouldn’t either”.
However in the build up to their first fight the “Fight of the Century” Ali turned it into a cultural and political referendum painting himself as a revolutionary and civil rights champion and Frazier as the white man’s hope, an “Uncle Tom” and a pawn of the white establishment. Ali successfully turned many black Americans against Frazier. Bryant Gumbel joined the pro-Ali, anti-Frazier bandwagon by writing a major magazine article that asked “Is Joe Frazier a white champion with black skin?”.
Frazier thought this was “cynical attempt by Clay to make me feel isolated from my own people. He thought that would weaken me when it came time to face him in that ring. Well he was wrong, it didn’t weaken me, it awakened me to what a cheap shot son of a bitch he was”.
He noted the hypocrisy of Ali calling him an Uncle Tom when his (Ali’s) trainer Angelo Dundee was of Italian descent. Ali’s camp also hurled many colorist insults at Frazier calling him “an ugly gorilla” and mocking the darker skin, flat nose and thick lips.
As a result of Ali’s campaign Frazier’s children were bullied at school and his family were given police protection after receiving death threats. Ali declared that if Frazier won he would crawl across the ring and admit that Frazier was the greatest. After Frazier won by a unanimous decision he called upon Ali to fulfil his promise and crawl across the ring but he didn’t. Ali called it a “white man’s decision” and insisted that he won.
During a televised joint interview prior to their second bout in 1974, Ali continued to insult Frazier who took exception to Ali calling him “ignorant” and challenged him to a fight which resulted in the two of them brawling on the studio floor. Ali went on to win the 12 round non-title affair by decision. Ali took things further in the build up to their last fight. The Thrilla in Manila and called Frazier “the other type of negro” and “ugly”, “dumb” and a “gorilla”. At one point he sparred with a man in a gorilla suit and pounded on a rubber gorilla doll saying “this is Joe Frazier’s conscience…..I keep it everywhere I go. This is the way he looks when you hit him. According to the fight’s promoter Don King, this enraged Frazier who took it as a “character assassination” and “personal invective”. One night before the fight, Ali waved around a toy pistol outside Frazier’s hotel room. When Frazier came to the balcony he pointed the gun at Frazier and yelled “I am going to school you”.
After the fight Ali summoned Frazier’s son Marvis into his dressing room and told him that he had not meant what he had said about his father. When informed of this by Marvis Frazier responded “you ain’t me son. Why isn’t he apologizing to me?”.
In his 1996 autobiography Smokin’ Joe The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Frazier consistently refers to Muhammed Ali as “Cassius Clay”, never once deviating from his convention unless the book is directly quoting someone else.
For years afterwards Frazier retained his bitterness towards Ali and suggested that Ali’s battle with Parkinson’s Syndrome was a form of divine retribution for his earlier behaviour. In 2001 Ali apologized to Frazier via a New York Times article saying “in a way Joe’s right. I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names that I shouldn’t have called him. I apologize for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight”.
Frazier reportedly “embraced it” though he later retorted that Ali only apologised to a newspaper and not to him. He said “I’m still waiting for him to say it to me”. To this Ali responded “If you see Frazier, you tell him he’s still a gorilla”.
Frazier told Sports Illustrated in May 2009 that he no longer held hard feelings for Ali. After Joe’s death in November 2011 Ali was among those who attended the private funeral services for Frazier in Philadelphia. The Rev Jesse Jackson who spoke during the service, asked those in attendance to stand and “show your love” and reportedly Ali stood with the audience and clapped “vigorously”.
In his later years Frazier live in Philadelphia where he owned and managed a boxing gym. He put the gym up for sale in the middle of 2009 but previous to the gym being put up for sale, Frazier with the help of Peter Bouchard formed the Smokin’ Joe Frazier Foundation.
The purpose of the foundation was to give back to troubled and in need youth. Peter Bouchard volunteered to run the foundation for Frazier. Once Frazier’s health declined, the foundation was shelved. He was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. He and his nemesis Muhammed Ali, alternated over the years between public apologies and public insults. In 1996 when Ali lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, Frazier told a reporter that he would like to throw Ali into the fire. Frazier made millions of dollars in the 1970’s but the article cited mismanagement of real-estate holdings as a partial explanation for his economic woes. Frazier stated repeatedly that he no longer had any bitter feelings towards Ali.
Frazier continued to train young fighters although he needed multiple operations for back injuries sustained in a car accident. He and Ali reportedly attempted a reconciliation in his final years but in October 2006 Frazier still claimed to have won all three bouts between the two. He declared to a Times reporter when questioned about his bitterness toward Ali, “I am what I am”.
Joe attempted to revive his music interests in late 2009/2010 notably popular singing “Mustang Sally”, both Frazier and his manager Leslie R Wolf teamed up with Welsh Rock Solo artist Jayce Lewis to release his repertoire in the UK and he later visited the Welshman in the UK to host a string of after-dinner speeches and music developments. It would notably be Joe’s last UK appearance.
Sadly in late September 2011 Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer and was moved to a hospice in November 2011 where he died on the 7th November 2011 at the age of 67. Upon hearing of Frazier’s passing, Muhammed Ali said “the world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration”. Joe’s private funeral took place on the 14th November at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia and in addition to friends and family was attended by Muhammed Ali, Don King, Larry Holmes, Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman among others. He was laid to rest at the Ivy Cemetery a short drive from the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. May you continue to Rest in Peace.
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