After a long fought battle with liver cancer, boxing great Joe Frazier passed away this past Monday, November 7, 2011 at the age of 67. While his name is often tied to flamboyant fighter Muhammad Ali, who he fought in three memorable bouts, Frazier built his reputation on his own blood, sweat and tears. The Beaufort, South Carolina native pulled himself up out of poverty to be one of the sport’s top fighters (32-4-1). In the wake of his passing, BlackEnterprise.com takes a look back at the many milestones in Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s life both in and out the ring. —Anslem Samuel
Watching boxing on his family’s black and white TV set, a young Frazier would often shadowbox on the porch. As he got older, he made a makeshift punching bag and worked on his form. After a freak accident his left arm damaged, Frazier developed a powerful left hook that would become his trademark knockout punch. As an amateur fighter, he won the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship three consecutive years (1962-64). His only loss in those three years would be to Buster Mathis, who defeated him again by decision in the 1964 Olympic boxing team qualifying bout.
Although Frazier did not make the 1964 US Olympic boxing team, his trainers convinced the young fighter to travel to Tokyo as an alternate. As luck would have it, Mathis, who won his spot over Frazier, sustained an injury that allowed the workhouse-like fighter to compete in the Olympics. Dominating his rounds, Frazier knocked out his first two opponents and entered the semi-finals as the only American boxer. He defeated Russian fighter Vadim Yemelyanov but sustained damage to his thumb in the process. Keeping the injury a secret, Frazier won a judges decision and took home the gold medal for the US.
The People’s Champ
Turning pro in ’65, Frazier went on to have an illustrious career that included 32 wins, 27 by knockout. His undefeated win streak early on earned him a shot at the vacant NYSAC heavyweight title in 1968, which he won in a bout with Mathis. In 1970, he added the WBC & WBA World Heavyweight titles to his list of accomplishments. The following year he defended his title against the also undefeated Muhammad Ali and came out victorious in their first matchup, billed “The Fight of the Century.” The two would fight twice more (74 and 75) with Ali winning both rematches. Frazier would end his career with a professional record of 32-4-1, earning him a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
At the peak of his success, Frazier was a pitchman for a wide array of products ranging from Miller Lite Beer to Muriel Cigars. His celebrity earned him even more face time on the big screen. In 1976, Smokin’ Joe had a cameo in the fictional boxing film, Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers. (The appearance got him immortalized years later as an action figure.) He also was featured as himself on popular animated series The Simpsons (1992 and 2006).
Passing the Torch
Following his retirement, Frazier remained close to the sport he loved by opening his own gym in his adopted home of Philadelphia. Among the fighters he trained over the years was his son, Marvis, and daughter, Jacqui, who went on to fight his longtime rival’s daughter, Laila Ali. As his health and finances dwindled, Frazier put the gym up for sale. At the time of his death he was under hospice care.