Joe Frazier, American (1944 - 2011)
Joseph William "Joe" Frazier (January 12, 1944 – November 7, 2011), also known as Smokin' Joe, was an American professional boxer, Olympic gold medalist and Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, whose professional career lasted from 1965 to 1976, with a one-fight comeback in 1981.
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 Undisputed Heavyweight Champion in 1970, and followed up by defeating Muhammad Ali on points in the highly-anticipated "Fight of the Century" in 1971. Two years later Frazier lost his title when he was knocked out by George Foreman. 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 rubbermatch. He retired in 1976 following a second loss to Foreman. He made a comeback in 1981, fighting just once, before retiring. The International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) rates Frazier among the ten greatest heavyweights of all time. He is an inductee of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Frazier'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.
After retiring, Frazier made cameo appearances in several Hollywood movies, and two episodes of The Simpsons. His son Marvis became a boxer — trained by Frazier himself — although was unable to recreate his father's success. Frazier continued to train fighters in his gym in Philadelphia. His later years saw the continuation of his bitter rivalry with Ali, in which the two periodically exchanged insults, interspersed with brief reconciliations.
Frazier was diagnosed with liver cancer in late September 2011 and admitted to hospice care. He died November 7, 2011.
Joe Frazier was the 12th child born to Rubin and Dolly Frazier in Beaufort, South Carolina. He was raised in a rural community of Beaufort called Laurel Bay. Frazier said he was always close to his father, who carried him when he was a toddler "over the 10 acres of farmland" 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." Young Frazier was affectionately called "Billy Boy."
Rubin Frazier had his left hand and part of his forearm amputated the year before his son was born. Rubin Frazier and his wife and Dolly had been in their car when Arthur Smith, who unfortunately was drunk, passed by and made a move for Dolly and was rebuffed. When the Fraziers drove away Smith fired at them several times, hitting Dolly in the foot and Rubin several times in his arm. Smith was convicted and sent to prison, but he did not 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 farm land was what country people called "white dirt, which is another way of saying it isn't worth a damn." They could not grow peas or corn on it, only cotton and watermelons.
In the early '50s, Frazier's father bought a black and white television. The family and others nearby came to watch boxing matches on it. 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 gonna be another Joe Louis" he remarked. The words made an impression on Joe. His classmates at school would give him a sandwich or a quarter to walk with them 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; Billy 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 heavybag from an oak tree in the backyard. "For the next 6, 7 years, damn near every day I'd hit that heavybag 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 Frazier started working, his left arm was seriously injured running 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 open and the hog chased him. Frazier fell and hit his left arm on a brick. His arm was torn badly, but as the family could not 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 who was the younger of the two and more easy going, and Jim who was a little rougher and somewhat backward. One day a little black boy of about 12 years old, damaged one of the Bellamy's tractors without meaning to. 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 back 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 threatened Joe to get off the farm before he took off his belt again. Joe told him he better keep his pants up because he wasn't going to use his belt on him. Jim then analyzed 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. 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 want anything to happen to you."
The train fare from Beaufort to the cities up North was costly, and the closest bus-stop was in Charleston, 96 miles (154 km) away. Luckily by 1958, the bus (The Dog, as called by locals in Beaufort) had finally made Beaufort a stop on its South Carolina route. Joe had a brother, Tommy, in New York. He was told he could stay with Tommy and his family. 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, and so first he went to work at the local Coca-Cola plant. Joe 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. One day, with no fanfare, no tearful goodbyes, Joe packed quickly and got the first bus heading northward. "I climbed on the Dog's back and rode through the night" Joe remarked. "It was 1959, I was 15 years old and I was on my own."