05-03-2006, 12:09 PM
Ted is a member of our board & a writer for Boxingscene.com


There’s No Smoke Without Frazier, Part 1

By Ted Spoon from Boxing Scene

If you consider the self proclaimed greatest, Muhammad Ali #1 among all Heavyweight Champions, then where do you place Joe Frazier? I’m talking about the man who left hooked that ‘0’ off his record and drove him to the very brink of physical and mental meltdown. Ali, himself once answered this question -- in a post fight interview proceeding the “Thilla in Manila”, during a moment of fatigued calmness, still finding it hard to speak, Ali explained: “He is the greatest fighter of all time, next to me”.

As a compassionate Eddie Futch retired Joe Frazier before the final round he closed both the show on a spell bounding fight and the last great chapter in the life of each boxer, but Joe’s smoke had been fading ever since he climbed the highest mountain at Madison Square Garden, over 4 years earlier.

After triumph came tragedy when the battered victor was admitted to hospital for 2 weeks with reoccurring blood pressure and kidney ailments following that savage first bout with the flamboyant former champion. His body, unable to produce the same intensity, saw a jaded Frazier continue until his name helped assist Ali and George Foreman in attaining more worldwide acclaim -- something that ‘Smokin Joe is still overdue.

A bumpy journey to ring immorality began on the 12th January, 1944; born Joseph William Frazier, the 7th of 13 children on a vegetable plantation in Beaufort, South Carolina. His loving mother and farther, who was left with one arm following an incident with a gun, were to prove the foundation of his irrepressible spirit. From day-to-day the Frazier family kept a great faith in God, teaching their children to always make the most of what they had -- the young Joseph took his parents lessons to heart, leading the way for his ambition to ‘rise above’.

School held little interest for such a restless kid so he quickly found himself back on the farm, working and helping out his family whenever possible. Being very proactive, Joseph ventured off to gyms, but such was the law regarding segregation in the 1950’s that a trip, even to the playgrounds, was forbidden for a black person.

Using his parent’s philosophy on life, being confined to the premises of the farm did not stop the young Frazier from doing as he pleased; A self made punch bag was hung to a tree as a result of his awareness to boxing, and like a teenage Jack Dempsey, Joseph punched it religiously, everyday.

Frazier’s place of birth was not just bearer of his initial passion towards the sport but a bizarre accident that created what was to become the crown jewel in his arsenal. He later recalled; “Mama warned me, more times than once, to stay away from it”, ‘it’ being an aggressive and territorial hog on his farm. One day, Joseph decided to hit the animal over the head with a blank of wood for a giggle, but the gate of its pen happened to be open, and an impression of Jessie Owens followed.

The result of his frantic getaway was an injured elbow, after he tripped over; “The hog chased me and I fell and hit my elbow on a brick”, said Frazier. Most would look upon a crooked left arm as an ugly disability, but for Frazier, the soon-to-be boxer, it became a blessing. When Joe went onto throw that left hook his bent arm meant he did not have to take that extra step to get into position an change the angle of a jab -- the injury had customized his anatomy to allow for an unexpected barrage of multiple hooks in succession.

Maturing quickly beyond his years, Joseph got married at the tender age of 15. His family soon left their heavy labour routine in Beaufort for Philadelphia in search of an easier way of life -- more significantly, the move was to launch a very prestigious career.

Upon the arrival of his first child, it was now crucial that Joseph found a job. As his elder brothers went about seeking work he landed himself one in a slaughter house -- a duty that fit like a glove.

Frazier’s eventual admittance into a gym came about when he marched there in a bid to chisel his ‘pudgy’ mid-section; a feature which rather annoyingly betrayed his daily work output. As he entered the fitness centre he noticed the local boxing gym and quickly concluded that would do nicely.

With a natural aptitude for fighting, Frazier relished combat. Each time he entered the ring he looked upon it as another one of life’s obstacles that must be knocked down.

A man who Frazier would later deem another ‘farther figure’ was Yankee Durham, his future fight manager. Yank liked what he saw, and Joe like what he was doing so a very successful amateur career got underway. Frazier was victorious in nearly every contest, but lost two encounters vs. a large, talented boxer named Buster Mathis.

It seemed like Frazier was going to have to give way to the better man after losing the Olympic trails, but in a twist of fate, Mathis broke his thumb and it was Joe who went to Tokyo, 1964. Then, what seemed like his comeuppance, the gutsy Frazier broke his own thumb in the semi finals, but managed to hide this during the medical examinations -- he did not plan on letting anything get in his way.

The Gold medal was Joe’s after he defeated the German, Han’s Huber in the final -- He was the only American boxer there to win top honours.

The decision to conceal his injury in the Olympics was a drop in the Ocean compared to the sacrifice’s Frazier was to make as he turned professional in the fall of 1965.

Speaking it over with his team, Frazier was prepared to go through his career pulling the curtain on a serious cataract in his left eye, masking the disability during visual check-ups by wearing contacts and switching hands on the same eye.

In his autobiography, Smokin Joe, 1996, Frazier simply said: “I accepted the hurt, and damage, as the price of being the best. I saw myself as a warrior who was obliged to carry on through thick and thin…I was willing to make the sacrifice to be the champion I became and to have the life I had. A small price to pay”.

His mind made up, Frazier was taken under the wings by an all white group called, Cloverlay Inc; they intended to make allot of money off their fighter, but in turn make him a very rich man also.

For a Heavyweight, Frazier was always notably small at 5,11, which had been a point of concern that led observers to believe he would not be good enough to hang with the worlds elite. Joe, however believed in an unbreakable heart, and with those tree-trunk legs powering his near bull-like strength he could deliver unrelenting salvoes of bone cruncher’s until his enemies mind or body wilted.

Progression was speedy -- 11 fights all by KO in less than a year -- until he was so very nearly blown off the heavyweight radar when the husky Argentinean, Oscar Bonavena floored him hard in the second round of their first bout. Frazier fell on his face compliments of a straight right that found its mark through an un-composed defence. The urgency to rise led him to be put down when off balance for a second time with the 3 knockdown rule in affect. As he got to his feet again it was now or never.

Frazier smartly clinched and began fighting back strong before the most hectic round of his short boxing life was over. As the rounds wore on the fighters, Frazier got close and landed the more significant punches before the 10 rounds were completed. Looked on as a virtually non-existent punch in Joe’s repertoire, he utilized a solid jab to set Bonavena up and out work his bulky foe.

Awarded with a Split Decision, Frazier’s quick accent to the championship rocketed on with knockout’s over the cagey veteran Eddie Machen, decent journeyman Doug Jones, and the extremely rugged Canadian, George Chuvalo; becoming the first man to stop him. Frazier stated that he would floor George and while he, or no one else ever did, his punishing hooks fractured Chuvalo’s eye socket bone, which led to a halt in the 4th round.

Two more low key fights paved the way for a rematch with his equally achieved nemesis, Buster Mathis whom was also undefeated in the pro ranks. They fought for recognition as a world champion.

When called to the centre of the ring by referee Arthur Mercante, Buster extended his gloves to Frazier who was either oblivious in his focus or just chose not to on principle that this man had previously beaten him as he stared a hole in the 6'3, 245lbs boxer.

Anxiously bobbing n’ weaving, Frazier was outworked and out manoeuvred for the first three rounds, but that sadistic grin on his vinegar dried visage reminded Buster that he was going to have to do allot more in order to win this one. Occasionally leaning on Frazier ala Lennox Lewis, Mathis was hoping to exhaust Joe down the 15 round limit, although after each punch and round he just appeared to get more into his warrior grove.

The fourth was Joe’s after some heavy body punching, the 5th was Mathis’ on a forced effort, but his opponents constant boring in was clearly undermining the previously effective boxing.

Unaided by the amateur rules of short distances and tidy fighting the tubby Mathis began to get dismantled by a much fitter, powerful and stronger fighter beyond the 6th. At the end of the seventh a short left to the head wobbled Mathis back to his corner, and it was one way traffic until Joe landed another short left on his temple in the 11th -- the punch knocked all the fight out of Buster as his lifeless body fell with terrific force and the lower rope cradled his scrambled head. Surprisingly, he made the count, but was stopped there after.

Since Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his championship in 1967 due to his refusal to join the US army the titles new owners were determined via an old fashioned tournament, which saw Ali’s sparring partner, Jimmy Ellis pick up the WBA version.

Ellis was now Frazier’s target for a unification bout as Ali held onto his WBC belt.

Keeping busy, the hopelessly overmatched Manual Ramos was dumped in the 2nd, old rival Bonavena was beaten more convincingly over 15, and a Texan named Dave Zyglewicz was blasted in the first round, but before tackling Ellis (who had postponed the fight after the injuries he sustained vs. Floyd Patterson) the Irish born boxer, Jerry Quarry was lined up to take on Frazier in what looked like, and shaped up to be a barnburner.

In the first round of Ring Magazine's 1969 ‘fight of the year’, Quarry stayed very close to Frazier with a high guard and punched with him. He scored with all his best punches on well timed counters electrifying the crowd, but Frazier did not budge and as each round put an end to the slugging contest Quarry was getting chewed up. He picked up a nasty cut underneath his right eye and could not stop Frazier’s pressing.

Referee Mercante stopped the brawl after the 7th on the basis of Jerry’s cuts, but the truth was he was getting beat up by a fighter who did not seem to tire, a point Quarry himself humbly projected after the fight: “My right hand is all right. My left hand is all right. My back is all right. The only thing was, I had too much fighter in the ring with me”.

WBA champion, Jimmy Ellis obliged to meet Joe at Madison Square Garden, 16/2/1970 to decide who was the best on the previously muddled Heavyweight scene.

Ellis, a decent mobile boxer, caught Frazier with plenty of solid punches in the first round, but similar to the Quarry fight they did not effect Frazier in anyway. After a feeling out process on Joe’s part he got close n’ worked Ellis’ body in the second before rocking him with that evil left in the third as he leaned away.

Jimmy came out for the 4th still groggy, now offering little defence to Frazier’s wicked body shots and head spinners. In the last minute Frazier began punching the former Middleweight with purpose causing him to comically fold up from side-to-side. Trapped in the corner he crumbled under a barrage of hooks and then was punched back to the canvas by another huge left hook.

Up a 9, Jimmy was then pulled out before the start of the 5th.

Frazier, who was now recognized as world champion by all states and nationalities, described what it was like flooring Ellis for the last time: “When I hit Jimmy pulling away, it feel like when you hit a baseball that rides unto an open field, that‘s the way his chin felt, so I knew he had to get up, but he wasn‘t comin back out”.

The once poor Joseph who lived on a derelict farm was now the undisputed champion, a very high earner, famous personality, fan favourite and a man of many battles -- the idea of retiring an undefeated fighter with all his faculties intact suited Frazier’s tight nit team fine, after all his eye problem was only going to run him into complications at a later date.

It was a decision that had been circulating for some time before Ali announced his comeback, but when he eventually did, Frazier refuted the rumours of retirement and became fixated on his quest to further prove his right to wear the title as champion. In the pre-fight build-up though he was to discover a much better, personal reason to fight the former champion…

When the Ali/Frazier super fight was confirmed, Joe needed himself a warm up since his lay off after the Ellis bout. The Light Heavyweight King, Bob Foster was a debilitating puncher at his natural weight class of 175lbs but had always encountered problems with the bigger boys when he ventured up in weight.

Frazier predicted proceedings would not last long, and he wasn’t half wrong when Foster found himself laid flat out in the second round. A vicious left hook snapped his head round violently after getting trapped in a corner by his demoralizing, physical superior.

For Ali, Frazier, the verbally challenged, ill educated farm boy from South Carolina was mere target practise for his poetic n’ all together degrading quips. He declared his opponent a ‘paper champion’ an ‘uncle tom‘, and ‘a white mans black man’. Ali’s philosophy regarding a fighters psychology was that if you get them wound up enough they would implode -- fight with anger and forget their game plam.

This had the opposite effect on Frazier; he remained focused through training, but bared a never before seen snarl, a spark to go one further born out of Ali’s insults that had hit home hard on a purely unprofessional level. Indeed, this was not just another chance to protect what was his, but an opportunity to get back at a man he had quickly developed a burning resentment towards, and it still burns to this very day.

Roberto Aqui
05-03-2006, 01:54 PM
I believe the first Ali fight is when Frazier's blood pressure problems first started to kick in. He was hospitalized for a week or two with that being his major problem.

mike casey
05-04-2006, 01:04 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed this, Ted - well done indeed!

Ted Spoon
05-04-2006, 02:31 PM
Thanks, Stephen for your efforts.

Roberto, you're correct. A rumour circulated that he was near deaths door after a coma, which was followed by ice baths to help revive his failing body, not too sure on the accuracy or seriousness of such claims, but he was badly messed up due to the punishment he shipped.

Mike, thanks for your kind words, should be fun working together.

05-04-2006, 03:07 PM

You are more than welcome. I think you're a terrific boxing writer/historian & a great addition to this board. I wish you & Mike Casey wrote for the CBZ!


05-06-2006, 11:57 AM