Life doesn’t run away from nobody. Life runs at people.
~ Joe Frazier
It’s a lesser world without Joe Frazier in it. He was a real life icon who never acted like anyone but Joe.
Joe Frazier, diagnosed with liver cancer in October, died in Hospice, surrounded by family, on November 7th at age 67. He owned and managed a gym at the end of his life. It is reported that he lived over the gym. The gym was put up for sale in 2009. Joe had diabetes and blood pressure problems which made it hard for him to run the gym. He blamed his lack of financial success on his failure to market his fame, but he also made some poor financial real estate decisions.
Joe Frazier was born January 12, 1944, in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Frazier was very poor and couldn’t afford a boxing bag so he made his own. Frazier was the youngest of 11 children born to a bootlegger. Frazier said he was always close to his father, who carried him when he was a toddler “over the 10 acres of farmland” that the Fraziers owned, “to the still where he made his bootleg corn liquor, and into town on Saturdays to buy the necessities that a family of 10 needed.” The young Frazier was affectionately called “Billy Boy.” The ten acres was known as “white dirt,” in other words it wasn’t worth anything.
He left for New York at 15 where he sold stolen cars.
Frazier said, “I quit school after the ninth grade…I wasn’t learning anything. I was just there taking space. I had the mind of a man early. You name it—outlook, girls, bread. I was chasing girls when I was 13. I was married at 16. When I was in school, I’d go into the class and look at the teacher’s legs.” He ended up in Philadephia two years’ later and finding work in a slaughterhouse, where he often used the slides of beef as boxing bags. He gained a lot of weight but hadn’t given up his dream of being the next Joe Louis.
To lose weight, he joined the PAL boxing gym. Three years later he became the first American to win an Olympic heavyweight title, beating Hans Huber in the final round.
Smokin’ Joe was known for his left hook, and it was the weapon that knocked out Mohammed Ali in the “fight of the century,” March 8, 1971.
Frazier fought from 1965 to 1972 and became the heavyweight champion of the world, February 16, 1970, with a technical knockout of Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round. It followed 29 undefeated bouts.
Then came his fight with Ali, the former Cassius Clay, who relinquished the “slave name” when he converted to Islam. Ali had been the heavyweight champion, but lost the title and fled the country when he refused induction into the army during the Vietnam war.
Frazier’s title was always tainted by the specter of Ali who left the country without having lost the title in a fight.
Ali, in one of his vicious streaks, called Frazier a gorilla who was “too ugly to be the champ…anybody black who thinks Frazier can whup me is an Uncle Tom.” He called Frazier stupid and said when he was born, his mother ran and hid from him because he was so ugly. Frazier had been a friend to Ali and thought Ali had gone insane.
Later, Ali said he was only promoting the fight when he taunted Frazier. After incessant verbal abuse, Frazier said he made up his mind he was going to kill him.
Frazier had the last word when, in the 15th round, Frazier caught Ali on the jaw and knocked him down. Frazier was the winner by unanimous decision.
Watching Ali go down after his treatment of gentleman Joe was the thrill of the century. He hit Ali with his left hook over and over, Ali shook again and again until he finally went down. He got up again but the decision was 11 rounds for Frazier and 4 for Ali.
The fight took its toll on both of them. Frazier said in his autobiography that the win left him hosipitalised for several weeks. “I couldn’t urinate,” he wrote. “I couldn’t stand up and walk. I couldn’t talk.”
Boxing has a short life and in 1973, Frazier lost the title to George Foreman. He then lost a rematch to Ali in 1974 and again in 1975, a fight known as the Thrilla in Manilla. Frazier lost in the 14th round to a TKO. Frazier hung up his boxing gloves until 1981 when he fought one last disastrous fight with Floyd Cummings.
Frazier was divorced from his wife Florence in 1985 but maintained a good relationship with his children.
Frazier, a man of many talents, worked as an ad man. He was a lounge singer and he played piano, performing in a band for a time. In the late ’70’s, he owned a restaurant called “Smokin’ Joe’s Corner,” and a limousine service.
After Frazier lost to him, Ali turned into the benevolent winner, and said, “I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m going to tell you, that’s one hell of a man, and God bless him.”
Frazier was one of Ali’s biggest supporters when Ali was trying to come back to the United States and regain his title. Frazier’s reward was to be trashed in the worst way possible. In his autobiography, Frazier said, “Joe Frazier didn’t turn his back on Cassius Clay when practically everyone else did. And for that, the scamboogah insulted me in the way most calculated to hurt — by picturing me as a pawn of white folks. To me that was not only a low blow, it was a perfect example of Clay’s nature.”
When Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Frazier expressed sympathy. Upon hearing of Frazier’s death, Muhammad Ali said, “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.”
The 15th Round of the “Fight of the Century”
Burt Watson was Joe Frazier’s friend and manager. He described him as a humble man who never forgot who he was or where he came from.
In a recent interview on mma.junkie.com radio, Watson said,
What would Frazier say if he could pass along a pearl of wisdom to the UFC fighters and the boxers of today?
“You work hard, you get it,” Watson said. “You work harder, you keep it. And when you get it, you don’t let it go to your head, baby, because it lasts as long as you hold onto it.
“History has a way of making you a part of it without you even asking for it. So you don’t have to do anything crazy to make history. It’ll take care of itself. It’ll do that for you. All you’ve got to do is be you and do what you do best and get the job done, plain and simple.”