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WBA Heavyweight Champion
Joseph William Frazier was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on January 12, 1944, the youngest of 12 children born to Rubin and Dolly Frazier, sharecroppers. He quit school at the age of 13, and moved to New York City at 15 to find work. Unable to find employment in New York, he moved to Philadelphia, where he found work at a slaughterhouse.
Frazier grew up watching Joe Louis fight on television, and dreaming of being just like him. As a child he had used burlap bags filled with rags, corncobs, moss, and even a brick or two as punching bags; once in Philadelphia, he began using sides of beef hanging in the slaughterhouse where he worked. He finally got his chance to box in 1961, when trainer Yank Durham saw him boxing to lose weight at a Police Athletic League gym in Philadelphia; it was Durham who dubbed him "Smokin' Joe."
Under Durham's guidance, Frazier won the 1962, 1963, 1964 Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship three years in a row (1962, 1963, and 1964). His only loss as an amateur came at the 1964 Olympic trials in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the judges decided the match in favor of Buster Mathis. Mathis subsequently suffered a hand injury, however, and Frazier relaced him at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he won the Heavyweight Gold Medal by defeating George Oywello of Uganda by knockout in the 1st round, Athol McQueen of Australia by knockout in the 3rd round, Vadim Yemelyanov of the Soviet Union by technical knockout in the 2nd round, and Hans Huber of Germany by 3-2 decision.
As a professional, Frazier's fighting height was listed as 5'11½", his weight 205 pounds, and his reach 73". Durham was his principal trainer and manager until dying of a stroke in 1973; Eddie Futch was hired as a co-trainer in 1966, and became principal trainer after Durham's death.
Durham continued as Frazier's trainer and manager after he turned pro in 1965. He won 11 straight bouts by knockout before being knocked down twice in one round by Oscar Bonavena on September 21, 1966 at Madison Square Garden, but he got up both times and went on to win a unanimous 10-round decision. Frazier scored knockouts against Doug Jones and George Chuvalo in 1967, and by the end of that year had compiled a 19-0 record as a professional.
By 1967 Frazier was a legitimate contender to challenge Muhammad Ali for the World Boxing Association heavyweight title. That year, however, the WBA stripped Ali of his title due to the champion having been convicted of draft evasion. The WBA then held an eight-man elimination tourament to determine a new champion, but Frazier refused to particpate because his financial backers objected to the contract terms; Jimmy Ellis ultimately won the title.
On March 4, 1968 Frazier faced Buster Mathis for the second time in his career, this time for the New York State world title at Madison Square Garden. This time Frazier emerged the winner, by knocking him out in the 11th round. He won 4 more fights (3 by KO) before taking the WBA title away from Ellis on February 16, 1970. After Frazier successfully defended his title against Bob Foster on November 18, 1970, the stage was set for his first showdown with Muhammad Ali (who had by then succeeded in getting the WBA to restore his boxing license).
The "Fight of the Century," as it was billed, took place at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. With each fighter guaranteed at least $2.5 million, it was the biggest purse in boxing history to that time. The two men fought it out for 14 rounds before Frazier finally knocked Ali to the mat with a left hook in the 14th round. Ali got back up after a four-count, but never fully recovered and Frazier won the fight by unanimous decision and held onto the WBA heavyweight title. He did not fight again the rest of that year, and only fought two matches in 1972 (both of which he won by knockout).
Frazier's first loss in his professional career came on January 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica, when he lost the WBA heavyweight title to George Foreman; Frazier was dropped six times before his corner stopped the fight in the 2nd round. He beat Joe Bugner in his next fight (in England on July 2, 1973), but lost a 12-round decision to Ali on January 28, 1974. He defeated Jerry Quarry later that year, and defeated Jimmy Ellis for the second time in his career in 1975. The stage was now set for a rematch against Muhammad Ali.
The "The Thrilla in Manila," as it was billed, was held in Quezon City, just outside Manila, on September 30, 1975. The body heat produced by all of the spectators in the arena, combined with the heat generated by the television spotlights, overwhelmed the building's air conditioners, and both fighters showed signs of heat fatigue early. Ali was in control through the early rounds, but Frazier caught his wind in the middle rounds and began to make a comeback. Ali regained control in 10th, however, and Frazier's corner finally stopped the bout at the end of the 14th round. On June 15, 1976, Frazier fought a rematch against Foreman, but his corner stopped the fight in the 5th round, and Frazier subsequently announced his retirement from the ring.
Frazier attempted to make a comeback on March 12, 1981, but he and journeyman fighter Jumbo Cummings ended up fighting to a 10-round draw, after which Frazier hung up his gloves for good. He ended his professional career with 32 wins (27 by KO), 4 losses (2 to Ali), and 1 draw.
Joe Frazier was inducted into the
International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Other honors
bestowed upon him during his career include:
Chronology of His Professional Career
Frazier spent his post-boxing career operating Joe Frazier's Gym in Philadelphia (he had opened it with his financial backers as the Cloverlay Gym in 1968 and had bought out their shares and renamed it in 1973). He trained a number of up-and-coming boxers there until closing it on April 2, 2008. In 1996 he published Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World.
In September of 2011, Frazier was diagnosed with liver cancer. The cancer spread quickly, and he died in a Philadelphia hospice on November 7, 2011. He was survived by his ex-wife Florence; five sons -- Marvis (who became a champion boxer under his father's training), Hector, Joseph Rubin, Joseph Jordan, Brandon Marcus, and Derek Dennis; and five daughters -- Jacqui (whose professional boxing career included a loss to Laila Ali, Mohammad Ali's daughter), Weatta, Jo-Netta, Renae, and Natasha.
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This page was last updated on December 22, 2017.