Remembering Boxing Great, Smokin’ Joe Frazier

0 Posted by - March 17, 2024 - Black History, BLACK MEN, SPORTS

Joe Frazier was born on this date in 1944. He was an African American boxer.

Joseph William Frazier was born to Rubin and Dolly Frazier in Laurel Bay, Beaufort, South Carolina. He was always close to his father, who carried him when he was a toddler over the 10 acres of farmland the family owned. In the early ’50s, Joe’s father got a black and white television. His father, his mother, her brothers and other people from the neighborhood would come to watch boxing matches on it. Frazier’s mother sold drinks for a quarter as they watched fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep, and Rocky Graziano. One night Joe walked onto the porch of his house when his Uncle Israel noticed Joe’s stocky build. “That boy there…that boy is gonna be another Joe Louis” he remarked. The words made an impression on young Frazier.

At school, his classmates would give him a sandwich or a quarter to walk with them at final bell so that bullies would not mess with them. Frazier got an old burlap sack and filled it with rags, corncobs, a brick in the middle and Spanish moss that grew on trees all over Beaufort County. He then tied a rope to it and hung the makeshift heavy bag from an oak tree in the backyard where the mules were kept. “For the next 6, 7 years, damn near every day he hit that heavy bag for an hour at a time. In 1959 when Frazier was 15 years old, he took the train with his mother’s blessing north. He was told he had a brother, Tommy, in New York. He was told he could stay with Tommy and his family.

Boxing became his life. He was a top amateur for several years and became the only American fighter to win a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo despite fighting in the final bout with an injured left thumb. After turning pro in 1965, Frazier quickly became known for his punching power, stopping his first 11 opponents. Within three years he was fighting world-class opposition and, in 1970, beat Jimmy Ellis to win the heavyweight title that he would hold for more than two years. It was his fights with Ali that would define Frazier. Frazier petitioned President Nixon to have Ali’s right to box reinstated setting up the whole series of matches. Frazier boycotted the 1967 WBA heavyweight elimination tournament to find a successor to Muhammad Ali when the champion was stripped of the title.

On March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, Frazier and Ali met in the first of their three bouts which was widely called the “Fight of the Century” the two undefeated heavyweights met in the kind of media-frenzied atmosphere not seen since Joe Louis’ youth. Frazier did his ‘homework’ training with coach Eddie Futch, who had instructed Frazier to watch Ali’s right hand and, at the moment Ali dropped it, to throw a left hook at the spot where they knew Ali’s face would be a second later. Frazier’s major staggering of Ali in the 11th round and his knock-down of Ali in the 15th were both executed precisely in this way. Frazier lost a number of early rounds but took Ali’s combinations without backing down. Consequently, Frazier won a clear, 15-round, unanimous decision. In 1972, Frazier successfully defended the title twice, beating Terry Daniels and Ron Stander, both by knockout, in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively. It’s worth noting Daniels had drawn with Jerry Quarry and Stander had KO’d Earnie Shavers. Frazier lost his undefeated record of 29–0 and his world championship, at the hands of the unbeaten George Foreman on January 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica. Frazier won his next fight, a 12-round tough decision and decked Joe Bugner in London to begin his quest to regain the title. Frazier’s second fight against Ali took place in 1974, in New York, with Ali winning a clear 12-round unanimous decision. Frazier finished 1974 with a much-awaited rematch against top Jerry Quarry. A wicked left hook to the ribs giving a five round stoppage although Quarry had tried to go on, he clearly couldn’t.

In 1975 Frazier defeated Jimmy Ellis in Melbourne, Australia, knocking him out again. The win made him once again the number one challenger for the world crown, now held by Ali, after an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in the famous “the Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali and Frazier met for the third and final time on October 1, 1975: the “Thrilla in Manila”. Ali took every opportunity to mock Frazier, again calling him The Gorilla, and generally trying to irritate him. The fight was a punishing display that ended when Eddie Futch stopped the fight before the 15th and final round. Even though Ali won, he always maintained it was his toughest ever contest. In 1976, Frazier (32–3) personally wished to retry against George Foreman. With a shaved head for a new image, he fought well. However, the now great George Foreman threw a tremendous left hook that lifted Frazier off his feet. After a second knockdown, it was stopped in the fifth. Joe retired.

Frazier 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. In 1981, Frazier attempted a comeback. He drew over 10 rounds with hulking Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings in Chicago, Illinois. It was a bruising battle with mixed reviews. He then retired for good. Since then, Frazier has involved himself in various endeavors. Among his sons who turned to boxing as a career, he helped train Marvis Frazier, a challenger for Larry Holmes’s world heavyweight title, and trains his daughter, Jackie Frazier-Lyde, whose most notable fight to date was a close points loss against Laila Ali, the daughter of his rival. Frazier’s overall record is 32 wins, 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 is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.

In 1986, Frazier appeared as the “corner man” for Mr. T against Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 2 at Madison Square Garden. In 1989, Frazier joined Ali, Foreman, Norton and Holmes for the tribute special Champions Forever. He released his frank autobiography: Smokin’ Joe the Autobiography, in 1996. Over the years, Frazier had lost a fortune through a combination of his own generosity and naïveté, his carousing, failed business opportunities and a deep hatred for his former chief boxing rival, Muhammad Ali. In 1973, Frazier purchased 140 acres in Bucks County, Pa., 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. When the trust went out of business, the payments stopped. Frazier sued his business partners, claiming that his signature was forged on documents and that he had no knowledge of the sale. In the ensuing years, the land was subdivided and turned into a residential community. The property is now worth an estimated $100 million.

Frazier mellowed though in later years, preferring to remember the good from his fights with Ali rather than the bad. Just before the 40th anniversary of his win over Ali, a day Frazier celebrated with parties in New York he said he no longer felt any bitterness toward Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s Syndrome. “I forgive him,” Frazier. “He’s in a bad way.” He told Sports Illustrated in 2009 that he no longer held hard feelings for Ali. Joe Frazier died on November 7, 2011.

Associated Press

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