Joe Frazier started his boxing career on the dirt roads of the South Carolina town where he was born and raised. He had a stocky build and would escort for a quarter those the bullies would target. His size was enough intimidate the bullies and keep them at bay.
Born on January 12, 1944, he was one of ten children raised on a ten acre farm where hard work and muscle was valued. As a young boy he watched Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and the white fighters on a black and white television his father Rubin purchased for the family. The family would host fight parties; his mother would charge two dimes and a nickel for drinks she would serve. He was told by one of those that attended one of the parties that with his build he too could be a great fighter one day. Joe did not give much thought to the idea until one day when a white man threatened to beat him for something that he had said while working in the fields on the white man’s farm. He decided then that it was time for him to leave the fields and the racism of rural South Carolina.
From South Carolina Joe went to New York City where he lived with his older brother. He started his amateur career in boxing in the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight division winning the championship in that class in 1962. He lost only once in his three year amateur career to a fighter named Buster Mathis. His loss to Mathis almost cost him a chance at his dream of going to the Olympics but fate intervened when Mathis was injured and he was sent to the Olympics as an alternate. Frazier turned the opportunity into a golden one winning the United States only Olympic Boxing Gold Medal.
Frazier turned professional in 1965 after his trainer Yancey “Yank” Durham and others invested their money in his boxing career. Frazier’s career was later propelled to new heights by the strategic genius of a Los Angeles trainer by the name of Eddie Futch. Futch joined the Durham team and advised Frazier of boxers to challenge and to set out the 1967 tournament of heavyweight challengers to see who would succeed Muhammad Ali after his title was taken away for being a conscientious objector and feeing to Canada. Frazier would later face numerous contenders including Jimmy Ellis and others. His most famous fight and the one that was his demon was the one with Muhammad Ali on March 8, 1971 at the Garden in New York. Frazier defeated Ali knocking him down in the 15th round. Frazier would later defend his championship title beating fighter Terry Danier and Ron Stander.
His career basically ended on January 22, 1973 when he fought George Foreman and his undefeated record of 29-0 came to an end; he was knocked down after only two minutes in the ring. Frazier would meet both Ali and Foreman in the ring again and would be defeated by both of them. After the loss to Foreman Frazier retired and attempted an unsuccessful comeback in the 1980’s. His record remains impressive, 37 fights with 32 wins, 27 knockouts, 4 losses and one draw.
Frazier appeared in several movies in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and he also penned his Autobiography. He made millions of dollars but was too generous, too loose with the women and not wise enough of a business man to hold on to most of it. He had significant financial and legal battles as a result of his financial irresponsibility.
Frazier’s last years were spent in Pennsylvania where he owned a boxing gym which he sold in 2009 because of health issues including severed back pain caused a car accident. In September 2011 he was diagnosed with liver cancer one of the deadliest and more rapidly progressive cancers. Just last weekend it was announced that he was in hospice care and on yesterday, November 7, 2011 he passed away; Joe Frazier “Smokin Joe” was 67-years old.