Frazier, Joe 1944–
Joe Frazier 1944–
Professional boxer, entertainer, businessman
Joe Frazier had many moments in boxing history. It began in 1964 when he won the Olympic gold medal in Japan, and peaked when he became the first American Olympic heavyweight champion to also win the heavyweight title of the world. When he was champion he held the highest knockout percentage in history, and while he had been knocked down a few times, he had never been knocked out. Frazier was involved in “the fight of the century” when he fought Muhammad Ali in 1971 for the world heavyweight title, which Frazier held. The Frazier-Ali fight was the first of three battles, but this fight of the century set an indoor boxing record for attendance and revenue, and along with their third fight, is considered classic boxing and an example of athletic courage and endurance.
Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on January 17, 1944, Frazier grew up on the ten-acre family farm with his twelve brothers and sisters. A thirteenth child, David, died of diphtheria as an infant, making Frazier the youngest in the large family. His parents, Rubin and Dolly Frazier, grew vegetables and raised hogs but their main income came from working on the large farms of white landowners. His mother worked in the fields while his father was an overseer. Nicknamed Billy Boy, Frazier was, by his own admission, his father’s favorite and was frequently at his side. He said in his autobiography, “… my daddy was my hero, my heartbeat. We were always together.” Frazier’s mother was a devout Baptist who was strong on love and discipline and Frazier occasionally felt the “switch” made of braided tree vines. His mother’s word was law and the kids were expected to listen and obey. Frazier’s childhood was a rural Southern existence; he spent much of his time helping his father operate a still and pitching in to do the daily chores. And just as his parents and siblings did, he worked in the fields of one of the large farms.
When television became generally available in the early 1950s, Frazier’s family was the first to have one in the Laurel Bay section of Beaufort. In those early days of television, boxing was a large part of the limited programming. Frazier’s family would watch the fights and saw boxing greats Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano,
At a Glance…
Born January 12, 1944 in Beaufort, South Carolina; son of Rubin and Dolly Frazier; wife: Florence; children: Marvis, Weatta, Jo-Netta, Natasha, Jacqut, Hector, Marcus. Religion: Baptist.
Career: Began pro boxing career 1958; owner, member of the rock-blues group Smokin’ Joe and the Knockouts; owner of Smokin Joe’s Corner restaurant; owner, president, Joe Frazier & Sons Limousine Service, 1974-; owner, Joe Frazier’s Gymnasium, 1974-.
Selected awards: Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight title, 1962; Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, 1962, 1963, 1964; Olympic gold medal in boxing 1964; heavyweight champion, NY, MA, IL, ME, 1968; World Boxing Association, heavyweight champion, 1970-73; inducted Boxing Hall of Fame, 1980.
Addresses: Business —c/o Lynne & Reilly Agency, 6290 Sunset Blvd Ste 326, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
Willie Pep, and Rocky Graziano. At the time eight-year-old Frazier was not particularly interested in boxing but he did know who former heavyweight champion Joe Louis was. When an uncle commented on young Frazier with his stocky build being the next Joe Louis, it made quite an impression on the boy. From that time on Frazier worked to fulfill that prophecy. He rigged a heavy bag from a burlap sack and rags, corncobs, brick, and Spanish moss. He hung the bag from the branch of an oak tree in the yard and began hitting it almost daily for the next several years. He was ridiculed by many, including his own family, when he told them he was going to be a champion of the world like Joe Louis. He relates in his autobiography that he replied to them, “You all can laugh but I’m gonna be world champion some day.” Segregated Beaufort had no gyms and the playgrounds could not be used by blacks. He says, “All I had to build my dream on was that homemade heavy bag.”
Frazier attended a segregated school and did not find much to interest him there. Learning did not come easily for him but he admitted in his autobiography, “Lots of times my work day would begin after school and run past midnight.… I’d be too tired to pay much attention the next day in school … after walking four miles to get there. Not that I was any more eager for learning when I was rested.” He frequently skipped school and dropped out when he was 14. Frazier’s early teens were spent doing farm work, running around with friends to clubs and parties, street fighting, and “chasing girls.” Frazier met Florence Smith, his future wife, when he was almost 14 and she was 16. But Frazier’s life took a turn when he ran into trouble with the owners of the farm he worked on. Tensions ran high in those days when whites and blacks argued. Frazier lost his job and became determined to leave the racist South. It was almost a year later before he made enough money for the bus fare to leave. He worked first as a delivery man for Coca-Cola and then as a construction worker at the Marines training depot on Parris Island in South Carolina. He headed for New York to live with relatives and to begin a new life.
After an unsuccessful attempt to find regular work in New York, the young Frazier decided to move on to Philadelphia, where he had relatives. Eventually he got a job with Cross Brothers, a slaughterhouse, where he did a variety of chores. The pay was barely enough to get by, and now he was feeling the responsibility of being a family man—back home in Beaufort his girlfriend Florence had just given birth to their son, Marvis. While working at Cross Brothers, Frazier developed a habit that would later be immortalized by actor Sylvester Stallone in the boxing movie, Rocky: Frazier practiced his punches on the hanging sides of beef when he moved them into the refrigerator. But he gradually stopped training and gained weight until he was 220 pounds. It was not until late in 1961 that he decided he was going to change his life and revive his Joe Louis dream.
When the overweight Frazier joined the Police Athletic League gym in Philadelphia, he was determined to trim down and pursue his dream of being a professional boxer. It did not take him long to find out that even though he had been the street fighter to contend with in Beaufort, his skills were not enough to keep him from taking a beating in the gym ring. His first sparring session hurt and he realized he had a long way to go. But Frazier knew from that first session on that he was where he wanted to be, and that with hard work he would find the success he craved.
With regular boxing instruction and training Frazier gained a reputation in the gym. With the guidance of Duke Dugent, the gym manager, and trainer Yancey (Yank) Durham, Frazier developed a healthier lifestyle as well. By 1962 Frazier had trimmed down to 190 pounds and was a “lean, mean fighting machine.” He saw the first reward for his hard work when he won the Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight title that year. He went on to win the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in 1962, 1963, and 1964.
In the fall of 1963 Frazier and Florence were married. Frazier continued to work at Cross Brothers during the day and to train in the gym at night. In the gym his style of fighting was compared to a boxer he admired, Rocky Marciano. Marciano had been known as an aggressive fighter and had retired undefeated as heavyweight champion in 1956. Frazier also developed a reputation for his devastating left hook, and frequently voiced his intention of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.
Frazier’s only loss while an amateur was to Buster Mathis, a big, heavy, yet agile man. When the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team was being decided for the 1964 games in Tokyo, Frazier and Mathis met in the finals of the trials. Frazier was eager to redeem his only amateur loss, but Mathis won again. It was a big disappointment for Frazier, who considered quitting boxing. But he was convinced by Duke Dugent and Yank Durham to not only continue boxing but to get on as a sparring partner for the Olympic team as an alternate to Mathis.
Frazier was concerned about losing his job if he went to the Olympics. He and Florence now had three children and her job at Sears Roebuck was not enough to keep the family afloat. When Cross Brothers agreed to hold his job Frazier went to the Olympic training camp in San Francisco. During this time Frazier worked hard at sparring and roadwork. During an exhibition one evening Mathis broke a knuckle while boxing with Frazier. The injury opened up a spot on the team and suddenly Frazier had a chance to prove himself at the Olympics. In the Olympics Frazier was one bout away from the gold medal when he hurt his left thumb. He was not sure how badly it was damaged and while he sought medical treatment, which consisted of ice and wrapping, he turned down an X-ray, fearing he would be dropped from competition if the finger was broken. Despite using his right hand more than his devastating left hook, which gave him severe pain each time he used it, he beat his opponent, Hans Huber of Germany, to win a gold medal for the United States. Frazier says in his autobiography, “The thrill of representing the U.S. and winning despite a handicap—well, there was no feeling quite like that. I had taken a giant step toward my uncle Israel’s casual prediction that Billy Boy would be the next Joe Louis.”
With his Olympic victory Frazier thought he would finally begin to see some financial and professional success. But surgery on his thumb left him unable to work in the slaughterhouse. Frazier decided it was time to find a sponsor to help him establish his professional boxing career, but he did not have much luck finding one even after winning the gold medal. The Christmas of 1964 was a dismal one for Frazier, who did not have money for gifts. A timely story in the local paper changed things for the family as gifts and money poured in from a concerned public.
Frazier continued to fight and to scratch for income. His pay for his first professional bout in August of 1965 was from selling tickets to the fight. Also that year, Frazier’s father, Rubin, died of lung cancer at age 53. Frazier took it hard, trying to find comfort in the fact that his father had been alive when he won the gold medal. His financial problems ended in late 1965 when a group of financial backers came together and formed Cloverlay, Inc. to run his professional boxing career. Part of the agreement was that Frazier would receive a salary of 100 dollars per week and this would increase as the purses did. During this lean time Frazier went to work as a salesman.
Frazier’s nickname, ‘Smokin’ Joe,’ came from Yank Durham when he used to tell Frazier before a fight, “Go out there … and make smoke come from those gloves. You can make smoke, boy. Just don’t let up.” Frazier continued to fight and develop, striving to remain undefeated and heading for the championship. He was nearly beaten in a bout with Oscar Bonavena in September of 1966 when Bonavena knocked him down twice in the second round. By New York rules the fight ended if an opponent went down three times in the same round. Frazier managed to stay up and went on to win by a split decision.
There were suggestions that Frazier should fight Muhammad Ali, the current heavyweight title holder. But Yank Durham wanted Frazier to have the chance to develop properly so that when he eventually did face Ali or another champion, he would win. Frazier began to study Ali. When he went to watch him fight in March of 1967 the two began what would become years of competitive bantering. While Ali had changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali in 1964 when he converted to the Black Muslim faith, Frazier insisted on calling him Cassius Clay. Ali had been known from the start of his own career as being a loud-mouthed self-promoter, yet the public and sports writers seemed to love him rather than despise him for it. Ali constantly put Frazier down and while Frazier took it in stride in the beginning, he soon deeply resented it.
In June of 1967 Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title and lost his boxing license for resisting the Vietnam draft because of his religious beliefs. This action left the heavyweight title vacant so the World Boxing Association (WBA) held a tournament to name a new champion. Frazier did not participate though and instead took a different route, fighting his nemesis Buster Mathis for the heavyweight title in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maine in March of 1968. He won by knockout. After defending the title through 1969 Frazier fought Jimmy Ellis, who had won the WBA tournament. Frazier beat Ellis to become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Frazier did not win respect from the boxing public—many felt Ali’s license and title should not have been taken and they still considered him the champion.
When Ali’s boxing license was restored in 1970 by a federal court, he returned to the ring determined to regain the heavyweight title. On March 8, 1971, Frazier and Ali faced each other at Madison Square Garden, with the heavyweight title of the world on the line. By this time Eddie Futch was assisting Yank Durham in Frazier’s training. More than 20,000 people attended this fight, among them celebrities like actor Burt Lancaster doing radio commentary and singer Frank Sinatra photographing the fight for Life Magazine. Futch told Sports Illustrated, “I have never seen any boxing event that had so many celebrities.” The attendance (gate) and admission fees collected over a million dollars and set indoor boxing records. Closed-circuit television allowed another half million viewers, and viewers in foreign countries also tuned in for a total audience of about 300 million viewers. The fighters each received 2.5 million dollars for the bout. The 15-round fight has been considered among the best in history both for its gate and revenue as well as the action in the ring. It was a hard-fought battle that left the crowd breathless and wondering how long either fighter could continue giving and taking such brutal battering. In the fifteenth round Frazier’s left hook put Ali on his back. Ali quickly got up, but Frazier won the fight by unanimous decision and retained the title. Both fighters went to the hospital. The thrill of rightfully winning the title consoled Frazier during the next 10 months when he suffered from “athlete’s kidney” and could not box.
After his match with Muhammad Ali Frazier earned, in addition to financial rewards, a certain amount of celebrity. He had started the Smokin’ Joe Musical Revue and toured the United States and Europe. He appeared on the Dean Martin television show and later bought a plantation in South Carolina. He eventually moved his mother to the plantation. He was also invited by Governor John C. West to speak to the South Carolina legislature.
Frazier only fought twice in 1972 and on January 22, 1973, he fought and lost his title to George Foreman in a second-round TKO. When Ali and Frazier fought again on January 28, 1974, at Madison Square Garden, the fight could not be compared to their first meeting. This time Ali had worked out a strategy of clinching and keeping Frazier from being effective—he won in a 12-round decision. That same year Frazier lost his longtime trainer and friend Yank Durham when the older man suffered a massive stroke and died at the age of 52.
Ali later won the heavyweight title by defeating Foreman. The title was on the line when Ali and Frazier met again on October 1, 1975, in Manila, the Philippines. Ali had predicted an early knockout but the fight went for 15 grueling rounds that left observers breathless. The pugilists hit so hard that each sent the other’s mouthpiece flying. Frazier’s eyes swelled shut until he could not see Ali’s fists coming but he still fought on. As the bell for the fifteenth round start was about to go off, Eddie Futch threw in the towel to Frazier’s protests, saying, “Sit down, son. It’s all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.” Ali retained the title but they both fought as true champions. Despite the seeming animosity between the two men Ali told the press that the fight with Frazier could be compared with dying. He was reported in Sports Illustrated as saying, “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.” In November of 1996, after years of reports of Frazier harboring bad feelings about Muhammad Ali and his vilifications, Frazier publicly apologized to Ali in Jet magazine, saying, “It’s about time to bring it to an end. I’m willing to say I’m sorry if I said anything to hurt [Ali].”
In November of 1975 Frazier underwent surgery to remove a cataract on his left eye. He had developed the problem years earlier but had not wanted to have the surgery for fear it would halt his boxing career. He had been getting by with medication but by this time it was clear that without surgery he would be blind. But while the surgery removed the cataract and kept the eye from further deterioration, it was too late—he was legally blind in his left eye and now wore contacts to fight, which he did with a rematch of George Foreman in June of 1976. When the fight was stopped in the fifth round, Frazier knew his career was over.
After retiring and making the musical group a full-time venture, Frazier renamed it “Smokin’ Joe and the Knockouts” and made it an eleven-piece revue. In 1977 the group began to travel around the United States to give performances, to favorable reviews. Frazier also bought the gym he had trained in, which had been owned by Cloverlay, his management team. With the gym came several aspiring fighters that had been under contract with Cloverlay. Frazier became a manager and trainer, although the majority of training in his gym was done by Eddie Futch, George Benton, Van Colbert and Sam Hickman. It was the late 1970s and Frazier was also busy with his restaurant, “Smokin’ Joe’s Corner,” and a limousine service.
Joe Frazier came out of retirement in December of 1981 to fight Floyd Cummings, but even though the bout was a draw he had to admit it was time to hang up the gloves for good. In 1985 Florence and Joe Frazier filed for divorce. His son, Marvis Frazier, runs the Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Inc. businesses and Frazier’s daughter Natasha assists him. Frazier is proud of all of his children, who have become successful in their own right. Joe Frazier can be proud of his own accomplishments, including boxing his way into the history books.
Frazier, Joe, with Berger, Phil, Smokin’ Joe, Macmillan, 1996.
McCallum, John D., The Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions since 1882, Chilton Book Company, 1975.
Jet, May 20, 1996; November 18, 1996, p. 5.
Sports Illustrated, October 3, 1994, p. 30; September 1996, p. 58.
—Sandy J. Stiefer
Holder of the unified World Heavyweight Champion title from 1970 to 1973, Joe Frazier is best remembered for the title fight that he lost to Muhammad Ali in the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975. Yet his matches with Ali were only part of the rags-to-riches story of Frazier's life. Growing up in the rural community of Laurel Bay, South Carolina, Frazier endured poverty as his parents struggled to support a family of twelve children. After dropping out of school and working as a farm laborer at the age of fourteen, Frazier left South Carolina after his boss threatened to give him a beating. Moving to Philadelphia, the teenager worked at a meat packing plant and began training as a boxer while he raised his own family. He found early success with a Gold Medal in heavyweight boxing at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, but it was another four years before he got a shot at the world title in a match sponsored by the New York State Athletic Commission. Unifying the title with another victory in a World Boxing Association bout in 1970, Frazier reigned as the undisputed heavyweight champion. He kept the title for three years before losing it to George Foreman in 1973. Although his attempt to reclaim the championship against Ali in 1975 failed, it became the most famous fight of his career.
South Carolina Childhood
Joseph William Frazier, or "Billy Boy" as he was called during his childhood, was born on January 12, 1944 in Beaufort, South Carolina. His parents, Rubin and Dolly Frazier, worked as farm laborers and raised their twelve surviving children in the rural hamlet of Laurel Bay. Part of the Gullah community of South Carolina, Frazier's family was part of extended kinship network of the descendants of former slaves. The mutual support of the community's residents helped Frazier build his self-esteem despite the poverty and racism that he experienced in the rural South. His status as his father's favorite in the family also helped Frazier to have a happy childhood. Frazier was often at his father's side helping him manufacture and distribute illegal moonshine; the elder Frazier had lost one of his arms in a lover's quarrel some years before.
Frazier dropped out of school in the tenth grade and began to work on a nearby farm as a laborer. After he spoke out against the beating of a fellow worker by the farm's owner, Frazier came under threat himself. He was fired from his job and felt compelled to leave the region altogether. After saving enough money for a Greyhound Bus ticket, Frazier joined his older brother, Tommy, in New York City in 1959. Unable to find steady work, Frazier sometimes resorted to stealing cars to make some money. He subsequently moved to Philadelphia, where some of his relatives lived, and found employment at the Cross Brothers kosher slaughterhouse. Although he was regularly cheated out of his wages by the company, Frazier worked in the meat packing plant from 1961 to 1963. He sent part of his wages back home to support the children he had with two of his girlfriends, Florence Smith and a woman he later identified only as "Rosetta." He had two children with Rosetta in the early 1960s, but married Smith in September 1963. The couple divorced in 1985 after raising seven children together.
|1944||Born January 12 in Beaufort, South Carolina, to Rubin and Dolly Frazier|
|1961||Begins training as a boxer|
|1962||Wins Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight championship|
|1962||Wins first of three Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship bouts|
|1963||Marries Florence Smith|
|1964||Wins Gold Medal in heavyweight boxing at Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan|
|1965||Begins professional boxing career|
|1968||Wins New York State heavyweight boxing title|
|1970||Wins World Boxing Association heavyweight boxing title|
|1971||Defends heavyweight title against Muhammad Ali|
|1973||Loses heavyweight title to George Foreman|
|1975||Fails to regain heavyweight title against Muhammad Ali|
|1976||Retires from professional boxing|
|1990||Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1996||Publishes autobiography, Smokin' Joe|
Olympic Gold Medalist
Inspired by watching boxing matches on his family's television set in the early 1950s, Frazier had created his own training regimen as a child, which included punching a burlap bag filled with rags, corncobs, and Spanish moss surrounding a brick in the middle. He resumed training in 1961 when he visited a local gym and trainer Yancey "Yank" Durham noticed his impressive left hook. Durham coached Frazier to a victory as the novice champion of the Philadelphia Golden Gloves tournament in 1962. That same year Frazier began a three-year run as the heavyweight champion of the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves league. As an alternate delegate in the heavyweight squad of the U.S. boxing team, Frazier was chosen to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games when Buster Mathis broke his thumb. Frazier returned from the games with a Gold Medal in heavyweight boxing. Despite the celebrity status that he earned from the victory, it would be another four years before he earned his first championship title as a professional fighter.
Monumental Fights Against Ali and Foreman
After turning pro in 1965, Frazier earned the nickname "Smokin' Joe" for his rapid-fire delivery of punches and seeming ability to absorb the most ferocious blows of his opponents. With then-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali suspended for refusing to report for the military draft in 1967, a number of fighters scrambled to claim the title. Frazier won the New York State Heavyweight title against Buster Mathis on March 4, 1968 with a knockout punch in the eleventh round. He went on to defend his New York title six times before earning the chance to spar for the title sponsored by the World Boxing Association (WBA) two years later. After winning the WBA bout with a technical knockout against Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round on February 16, 1970, Frazier could claim the undisputed title of World Heavyweight Champion.
After Ali was reinstated to the sport, fans clamored for a match between the former and current title holders. The match took place on March 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden in New York; both fighters were guaranteed a payout of $2.5 million. The bout went the entire fifteen rounds, with Frazier winning a unanimous decision by the judges at its conclusion. Although Frazier's victory was clear, Ali immediately claimed to have been robbed of the title and demanded a rematch. In addition to his poor sportsmanship, Ali made a number of humiliating remarks at Frazier's expense, including his infamous labeling of his opponent as an "Uncle Tom." Adding to Frazier's bitterness over the remark, media coverage of Ali often glamorized him as a principled rebel while Frazier was criticized as the establishment's boxer. The fact that Frazier had outboxed Ali in their first match was a secondary issue to many critics.
Frazier retained his title through two fights in 1972 before encountering George Foreman in a Kingston, Jamaica ring on January 22, 1973. Foreman battered Frazier so brutally that the bout had to be declared a technical knockout in the challenger's favor in just the second round. Frazier also encountered a setback in his second meeting with Ali in a non-title match in New York on January 28, 1974, where he lost in a twelve-round decision. After Ali took the world title from Foreman, he met Frazier in their third match for another title bout. Publicized as "The Thrilla in Manila," the match took place in the Philippines on September 30, 1975. The action continued over fourteen rounds with Frazier appearing to lead; after sustaining serious damage to his eyes, however, his coach, Eddie Futch, asked for the fight to be stopped. Ali retained his title in a technical knockout.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1962||Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight championship|
|1962-64||Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship|
|1964||Olympic Gold Medal in heavyweight boxing|
|1968||New York State heavyweight boxing title|
|1970||World Boxing Association heavyweight boxing title|
|1990||Induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame|
Ghosts of Manila
In the thirteenth, Frazier began to flinch and wince from Ali's one-note slugging. Joe's punches seemed to have a gravity drag, and when they did land they brushed lazily against Ali. The champ sent Frazier's bloody mouthpiece flying seven rows into the audience, and nearly pulled the light switch on him with one chopping shot….
The fourteenth was the most savage round of the forty-one Ali and Frazier fought…. Nine straight right hands smashed into Joe's left eye, thirty or so in all during the round. When Joe's left side capsized to the right from the barrage, Ali moved it back into range for his eviscerating right with crisp left hooks, and at the round's end the referee guided Joe back to his corner….
"Sit down, son," Eddie [Futch, Frazier's coach] said. "It's over. No one will forget what you did here today."
With the only strength they had left, both fighters stumbled toward their dressing rooms to a continuous roar.
Source: Mark Kram, Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, HarperCollins, 2001.
In 1976 Frazier fought against George Foreman; after suffering a knockout in the fifth round, he announced his retirement. He returned to the ring for a 1981 match against Floyd Cummings, which led to a ten-round defeat by decision. Disabled by hepatitis and problems with his vision, it was Frazier's last match. His professional record stood at thirty-two wins, four losses, and one draw. Frazier won twenty-seven of his fights by knockouts. A careful manager of his finances, Frazier avoided the fate of many of his colleagues and enjoyed a successful post-boxing career as the manager of Smokin' Joe's Gym in Philadelphia and as a singer with his own band, the Knockouts. He also helped steer his son, Marvis Frazier, to a successful boxing career with over $1 million in winnings in the 1980s.
Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, Frazier's reputation as a boxer has grown since his professional career ended. Ali finally offered an apology for his earlier criticism of Frazier, explaining in a 2001 interview with the New York Times, "I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have said. Called him names I shouldn't have called him. I apologize for that. I'm sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight." Frazier, forever linked with Ali for their Manila fight—which many observers ranked as one of the sport's greatest matches—accepted the apology. "We have to embrace each other," Frazier told the New York Times, "It's time to talk and get together. Life's too short."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY FRAZIER:
(With Phil Berger) Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Macmillan, 1996.
Frazier, Joe, with Phil Berger. Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World. New York: Macmillan, 1996.
Kram, Mark. Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Roberts, James B., and Alexander G. Skutt. The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book, 2nd Edition. Ithaca, NY: McBooks Press, 1999.
Sandomir, Richard. "No Floating, No Stinging: Ali Extends Hand to Frazier." New York Times (March 15, 2001).
Sketch by Timothy Borden
(b. 12 January 1944 in Beaufort, South Carolina), boxer who won the 1964 Olympic gold medal and was world heavyweight champion from 1970 to 1973; he fought nemesis Muhammad Ali three times and won once in 1971.
Frazier was one of thirteen children of Rubin and Dolly Frazier. He grew up in rural poverty, the youngest of seven sons. Frazier credits his success to a strong work ethic and solid values established early in life. Working in the fields alongside his siblings, Frazier picked vegetables grown by the wealthy white landowners of Beaufort, South Carolina, earning fifteen cents per filled crate. Frazier's father, a sharecropper, woodcutter, and junk dealer, lost an arm in a car accident shortly before young Frazier was born, yet served as a model of strength. Frazier's father, to whom he was very close, built the family's house while engaging his children in farm and domestic labor.
For recreation, Frazier tied homemade heavy bags to tree branches and pretended to be boxing legends Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, or Archie Moore. He attended a segregated high school until dropping out in the tenth grade at age fourteen. After marrying Florence Smith in 1959, Frazier migrated north seeking opportunity after running into trouble with the owners of the farm on which he was working. After a brief stay with relatives in New York, he moved to Philadelphia, where he found work in a kosher slaughterhouse and sent money home to his wife, who had given birth to their first of seven children. In 1961, seeking to lose weight, he began working out at a Police Athletic League gym, where he was spotted by Yancey "Yank" Durham, a veteran Philadelphia fight trainer. Durham noticed the stocky Frazier could throw a tremendous punch and immediately recruited him to organized boxing.
After enjoying immediate success in the amateur ranks, where he earned the 1962 Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight title and won the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championships in 1962, 1963, and 1964, Frazier competed at the 1964 Olympic trials. Buster Mathis outpointed him, but he was chosen as an alternate, and when Mathis broke his thumb before the international competition he replaced him on the team. Frazier won a gold medal in heavyweight competition at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and then returned to Philadelphia, still poor. He continued to win handily, even after turning professional in 1965. The unrelenting Frazier displayed a strong jaw, good punching power, and a nonstop attack that gave adversaries little time to think or maneuver. "Smokin" was Frazier's term for this style, which led to his nickname of "Smokin' Joe."
When Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for refusing induction into the U.S. Army due to religious reasons in 1967, the professional heavyweight division was in disarray. An opportunistic Frazier defeated nemesis Buster Mathis for the New York State world title 4 March 1968 at Madison Square Garden, a title bout sponsored by the World Boxing Association (WBA). He made six defenses of his title, including a unification fight in which he knocked out WBA titleholder Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round on 16 February 1970, achieving widespread recognition as world champion.
In the summer of 1970, former champ Ali was granted a license to fight again, and public demand for a showdown between the former champion and the reigning titleholder surfaced. Thus began a mostly adversarial link between the two men that lasted for years. Ali promoted the upcoming fight by relying on his trademark rhetoric and insulting banter. Frazier, who had generally been supportive of Ali in the past, including lending him money months earlier, reacted with frustration and anger. Ali labeled Frazier an "Uncle Tom," an odd assertion for a man born into a middle-class family in Louisville, Kentucky, to make about the earnest Frazier, who grew up dirt poor in South Carolina. Frazier retorted by alleging Ali's Muslim religion was "a front," and he referred to Ali by his birth name, Cassius Clay, in a show of disrespect. Although both men were Olympic champions during the same decade, and children of the South, both they and the media saw the two as very different.
The unprecedented meeting of two undefeated heavyweight champions, called by boxing experts the most anticipated heavyweight title fight since the Joe Louis versus Billy Conn rematch of 1946, occurred on 8 March 1971. Each fighter received a record sum of $2.5 million and the bout was broadcast worldwide on closed-circuit television to an audience of about 300 million viewers. The sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden was treated to an epic battle, resulting in a unanimous decision for Frazier after fifteen grueling rounds. Even after the victory solidified Frazier as undisputed champion of the world, he was not well received by some critics. Boxing Illustrated published a story by Bryant Gumbel titled: "Is Joe Frazier a White Champion in a Black Skin?"
Frazier's reign as champion ended in January 1973, against George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica. Foreman dropped the uncompromising Frazier six times before the fight was stopped in the second round. But Frazier then defeated Joe Bugner in his next fight, setting up a rubber match with Ali, who had beaten Foreman and regained the heavyweight title. In suffocating heat just outside the Philippines capital of Manila on 1 October 1975, the two aging warriors dueled for fourteen rounds in a contest Ali dubbed the "Thrilla in Manila." Frazier's ferocious body blows appeared to stun Ali during the middle rounds, but the champion surfaced as the aggressor late in the fight. By the end of the fourteenth round, Frazier's eyes were badly swollen, and his corner stopped the bout. Ali later said, "It was the closest I've come to death." Boxing experts rate the contest one of the greatest heavyweight championship fights in history. Nine months later, Frazier lost a rematch against Foreman and retired after the fight. In December 1981 he launched a one-bout comeback, but drew with journeyman Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings.
On 14 March 2001 Ali publicly apologized for calling Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and "too ugly to be the champ," before their first fight in 1971. Frazier embraced the apology, ending their public feud. In retirement, Frazier trained boxers and became a professional singer. His ensemble group, aptly named the "Smokin' Joe and the Knockouts," performed rock and gospel music in nightclubs and recorded for Capitol Records. Frazier was inducted into Ring Magazine 's Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He has made several public appearances at Joe Frazier's Gym in Philadelphia. Of his seven children, two have followed him into boxing. His son, Marvis Frazier, fought for the heavyweight championship twice in the 1980s, losing to both Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. Daughter Jacqui-Frazier Lyde is a lawyer, women's professional boxer, and promoter.
Frazier collaborated with Phil Berger to produce Smokin ' Joe (1996), a good source of biographical information. Several articles in the popular press capture major events in Frazier's life. One worth consulting is Dave Anderson, "Beaufort, S.C., Loves Frazier," New York Times (10 Apr. 1971). Richard Sandomir, "No Floating, No Stinging: Ali Extends Hand to Frazier," New York Times (15 Mar. 2001), describes the end of the Ali and Frazier feud. Jeffrey Sammons, Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society (1988), is a good source of information about several boxers, including Frazier. Bert Randolph Sugar, ed., The Great Fights (1981), presents Frazier's major bouts in detail in this rich history. David Remnick, King of the World (1998), describes the major cultural changes that swept boxing and much of America in the 1960s and early 1970s. His account also describes the fascinating link between Ali and Frazier.
R. Jake Sudderth
January 12, 1944
"Smokin'" Joe Frazier was the World Heavyweight Boxing champion from 1970 to 1973. Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, Frazier grew up in Philadelphia and began boxing at a Police Athletic League gym. After he won Golden Gloves titles in 1962, 1963, and 1964, as well as a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, a consortium of investors, incorporated as Cloverlay, Inc., sponsored Frazier's professional career.
Frazier was only 5'11½" tall and 205 pounds, small for a heavyweight. Managed by Yancey Durham, Frazier adopted a crowded and hard-hitting style that compensated for his relative slow-footedness. Beginning with a one-round knockout of Woody Goss in August 1965, Frazier won his first eleven professional bouts by knockout, none of which went beyond six rounds, and he won thirty-one straight fights before George Foreman defeated him in 1973.
After Muhammad Ali gave up his title in 1970, Frazier won the World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Jimmy Ellis in a five-round knockout. Ali, who had been stripped of his title after the U.S. government convicted him of draft evasion (later overturned), also claimed to be the heavyweight champion because he had never retired or been defeated.
On March 8, 1971, in New York City's Madison Square Garden, Frazier defeated Ali after fifteen rounds of
such ferocious boxing that both men entered hospitals after its conclusion; they would later fight twice more, both times with great intensity. After the first fight with Ali, Frazier did not fight a title bout again for ten months. He then defended his championship twice, winning both bouts, but on January 22, 1973, George Foreman knocked him out in the second round of a heavyweight title bout.
Having lost his title to Foreman, Frazier again fought Ali in a nontitle bout in New York City on January 28, 1974, and lost in twelve rounds. Frazier had fights with two lesser boxers, both of whom he knocked out, then faced Ali for the heavyweight title on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines. The fight, dubbed by Ali "The Thrilla in Manila," was a hard-fought contest. Ali knocked Frazier out in the fourteenth round.
On June 15, 1976, Frazier followed the Manila bout with a second fight against Foreman, who knocked him out early in the fight. Frazier then retired from the ring. He made a brief appearance playing himself in the movie Rocky (1976) and tried unsuccessfully to build a singing career with a group called the Knockouts. In 1981 he attempted a comeback but was defeated by Floyd Cummings. Of his thirty-seven career bouts, Frazier won thirty-two, twenty-seven by knockout. He then managed his son Marvis's short boxing career. In 1980 Frazier was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Frazier published Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin' Joe Frazier, in 1996.
Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete Since 1946. New York: Warner, 1988.
Frazier, Joe, and Phil Berger. Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin' Joe Frazier. New York: Macmillan, 1996.
greg robinson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005