Joe Frazier, who was often called “Smokin’ Joe” for the smoke he left after his punch, was an American professional boxer who competed from 1965 to 1981. Here are 19 facts about him that are sure to delight any boxing fan!
Joe Frazier: 19 Fun Facts About The Legendary Boxer!
1. He Was The Real Rocky Balboa, and Might Have Been Copied
Former professional boxer Chuck Wepner earns credit for inspiring Sylvester Stallone to write the “Rocky” movies, but there are a lot of things Joe Frazier had to say about the writing. For example, he said to The Guardian about his time working in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse.
“I was the drain man. My job was to make sure the blood went down the drain. But sometimes, early in the morning, I’d go down that long rail of meat and work on my punching,”
“That’s how [Sylvester] Stallone got the same idea for Rocky—just like he used the story about me training by running up the steps of the museum in Philly. But he never paid me for none of my past. I only got paid for a walk-on part. Rocky is a sad story for me.”
A lower-middle-class Philadelphia-raised fighter, undersized for his division but making up for it with extraordinary toughness……sound like both Fraizer and Balboa? Maybe it wasn’t a creative stroke of genius that Balboa also happened to work in a meatpacking factory, and became heavyweight champion of the world by beating a loud-mouthed, showboat African-American boxer as part of a legendary rivalry.
2. Frank Sinatra Once Photographed Frazier
Frazier fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title of the world on March 8, 1971.
On the same day, LIFE magazine had commissioned singer Frank Sinatra, who moonlighted as an amateur photographer, to shoot the event.
Interestingly, Frazier too was a singer and performed from time to time with his band Joe Frazier and the Knockouts.
3. He Cut Up His Olympic Gold Medal For This Sweet Reason
“I had my Olympic gold medal cut up into eleven pieces. Gave all eleven of my kids a piece. It’ll come together again when they put me down,” Frazier told Esquire in 2004.
4. Beating Ali the First Time
Often lost in the discussions of the “Fight of the Century” and the Frazier-Ali rivalry is the fact that Joe Frazier was a victor of the first fight by unanimous decision.
Joe Frazier also knocked down Ali in the process of handing “The Greatest” the first defeat of his pro boxing career.
Frazier deserved to be victorious for all the grandstanding and hatred that Ali had tried to build, Ali couldn’t stand up to Frazier’s extraordinary locomotive-style attack and his treacherous left hook.
5. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier Started Off As Friends
World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali successfully defended his title for the ninth time, knocking out Zora Folley in the seventh round On March 22, 1967.
This fight would be Ali’s last fight for more than three years because the boxer refused to be inducted into the armed forces and stripped of his title, stripped of his passport, and was denied a boxing license by every state in the U.S.
One of Muhammad Ali’s biggest supporters turned out to be Joe Frazier, who met Ali in 1968, was passionate about getting Ali back into boxing as the two had become friends.
He (who grew up much poorer than Ali) loaned Ali money during his suspension.
Although the two were friends, Frazier also knew getting Ali back into the boxing realm would further his own career. Frazier’s need to be known as the best fighter in the world, could only happen by finding a way to beat Muhammad Ali.
In 1970, Ali was finally reinstated and, following a couple of tune-up fights, the “Fight of the Century” was on. However, the friendship would turn sour with a lot of trash talk!
6. He Was Nice To Ali
During the Vietnam War, after refusing to be drafted, boxer Muhammad Ali was forced out of his career for nearly three years.
Once, when Ali was nearly bankrupt and having trouble paying a dinner bill in Philadelphia, Smokin’ Joe (then the heavyweight world champion) was concerned and invited Ali into his limousine.
A kind-hearted Joe reportedly gave Ali $1000 and Ali was very grateful in the limousine.
But the second Ali stepped out of the limousine, the boxer acted like a madman to hype a future fight. Ali began to yell obscenities at Frazier and acted like they hated each other. Ali had to be “restrained” by his supporters, and Frazier was incredibly confused by Ali’s two-faced behavior after Smokin’ Joe had done such a generous thing for Ali.
7. He Helped Get Ali Reinstated By Speaking to President Richard Nixon
Also during that limousine ride, Frazier mentioned to Ali that he would do whatever he could to help the former champ get reinstated after Ali was blacklisted from the sport for his anti-war actions.
Soon Frazier kept his word and asked President Richard Nixon to give Ali his license back so he could beat him:
“I went to see President Nixon at the White House. It wasn’t difficult to get a meeting because I was heavyweight champion of the world,” he said to The Guardian. “So I came to Washington and walked around the garden with Nixon, his wife and daughter. I said: ‘I want you to give Ali his license back. I want to beat him up for you.’ Nixon said, ‘Sure, I’d like that.’ He knew what he was doing and so Ali got his license back.”
This was one of the acts of a kindhearted Frazier that went underappreciated, especially by the self-acclaimed “Greatest.”
8. He Never Backed Down from an Opponent or a Fight
After their first fight, Frazier may never have needed to face Ali a second time, but he chose to do so, twice. The second fight (the least famous one in the series) wasn’t the best for him, and the third one was the legendary Thrilla in Manilla which Frazier narrowly lost after his corner retired him prior to the 15th round.
Make no mistake about it, though, Frazier would have gotten up and fought that final round, and some stories say that Ali was about ready to call it quits too.
And against George Foreman, Joe Frazier picked himself off the canvas seven times despite being clearly outclassed by “Big” George.
The 5 foot 11-inch boxer never backed down from any fight, which is what earned him so much respect from boxing observers all over the world.
9. Joe Frazier Was Undersized and Under-Equipped To Be a Professional Heavyweight
Joe Frazier was only 5’11” and much shorter than most of his opponents, including Ali (6’3″) and Foreman (6’4″).
In fact, he didn’t have particularly long arms either and was the same height and same arm length as light heavyweight world champion Joe Calzaghe.
Joe Calzaghe could never have made it in today’s heavyweight division.
Another thing that set Joe apart from Ali was that he was more of an old-fashioned rough-and-ready fighter, patriotic and loyal, and didn’t understand the social implications of what he had gotten involved in.
Joe Frazier didn’t understand why people were so culturally caught up in his rivalry with Ali, and in some ways, that ended up harming him in his career.
10. He Did Wonders for Boxing in Philadelphia
Joe Frazier, Bernard Hopkins, Benny Briscoe, Matthew Saad Muhammad – these 4 are just some of the legendary boxing names to have come out of Philadelphia in the past 50 years.
Not to mention Tommy Loughran, Joey Giardello and Lew Tendler prior to the fame of these 4!
But nobody epitomized Philadelphia-area boxing like Joe Frazier, and he kept a gym in the area until his death this past week. Joe Frazier, though born in Beaufort, South Carolina, was an adopted son of Philly, and some say he was even instrumental in helping establish Philadelphia as the hometown of the fictional “Rocky Balboa.”
If Sylvester Stallone deserves a statue in Philly, Smokin’ Joe Frazier deserved one too!
11. Joe Was Entangled In A Racism Storm Thanks To Ali
He worked as a slaughter in Philadelphia before he became a boxer. That is the place where he sometimes practiced boxing by punching the meat hanging in the refrigerated room.
Muhammad Ali came to represent the “black power” movement and Frazier somehow became the symbol for the white establishment despite being an African American himself making this situation one of the great conundrums in boxing history.
Ali was the child of a middle-class family in Kentucky, and his rich parents were educators. Frazier on the other hand, was the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina.
Yet somehow Ali managed to represent the “black separatist” movement while making fun of Frazier in racially tinged terms. He said Frazier had a “flat nose” and “big ears” and made fun of him as a “gorilla.” While none were direct racist terms, it was hard not to see the undertones of what Ali was saying.
One of the great quandaries in the history of this great sport is the fact that Ali could get away with throwing racist insults at Frazier and still manage to paint him as the “white man’s fighter.
12. He Was Practically Blind In His Left Eye By 1974
Whilst training in the sixties, shards of metal landed in the Philadelphian boxer’s eyes while training with a faulty speed bag.
His trainers kept it a secret so he could continue to fight, but a decade later, the boxer sadly developed cataracts from the scar tissue and lost most of the vision in his left eye.
13. Frazier’s Father Was A One-Armed Moonshine Runner
“I never asked him what happened. Don’t know what exactly. But the story I heard was that another man tried to kill him in an argument over a woman,” he admitted to Esquire.
Growing up, Joe Frazier was born in a poor family. His mother sometimes sold drinks to the people who would come to their house to watch boxing fights on TV.
14. Frazier Was Scared of George Foreman
At the hands of the unbeaten George Foreman, Joe Frazier lost his undefeated record of 29–0 and his world championship, on January 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.
Despite Frazier being the overall favorite, George Foreman towered 10 cm (4 in.) over the more compact champion along with an 8 inch reach advantage and dominated the fight from the start.
“I wasn’t a big guy. People thought the big guys would eat me up. But it was the other way around. I loved to fight bigger guys,” he told Esquire.
Two minutes into the first round, George Foreman punched Frazier and knocked him down for the first time.
In the second round, after Frazier was knocked down for the sixth time, the referee Arthur Mercante, Sr., was forced to end the contest with the fight being a dominant victory for Foreman.
“Only one big guy I didn’t like to fight. That was George. Fightin’ George Foreman is like being in the street with an eighteen-wheeler comin’ at you.”
Foreman was just as scared of Frazier: “Joe Frazier, he was the toughest guy I’d ever seen,” Foreman said in an interview with Johnny Carson.
15. Frazier Never Truly Reconciled With His Bitter Rival
Boxing duo Ali and Frazier certainly respected each other but the ex-friends were no longer friendly after Ali had repeatedly called him a “gorilla” and an “Uncle Tom”, incensing Frazier.
Even by the nineties, Frazier was still mad and betrayed.
Upon seeing Ali, battling Parkinson’s disease, light the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Frazier stated to reporters that he would have liked to have “pushed him in.”
The boxing duo was also photographed together a few times before Frazier passed away but unfortunately, the two all-time champions never truly buried their hatchet.
16. He Was Underappreciated for Most of His Life
When Cassius Clay was victorious during Olympic gold in the light heavyweight division in 1960, Clay came home to a hero’s welcome and was a highly-touted professional from the get-go.
Joe Frazier took home Olympic gold as a heavyweight in 1960, but arrived home injured and penniless, and with very little fanfare. The boxer had to work in a meat-packing shop until a group of financial backers paid $250 each for a share of his career so that Frazier could afford to fight full time.
HBO commentator Larry Merchant was one of the backers, and he sold his share a few years later for $2,000, but regretted his decision when the same share was going for $14,000 just a bit after that.
17. He Devoted His Life to Boxing and His Kids Followed
Thanks to his love and dedication to boxing, Joe Frazier made something of his life and he spent the rest of his life giving back to the sport.
He ran a gym in Philadelphia, also participated in some of the Rocky movies, and even died in Philly.
Joe Frazier’s kids Marvis and Jacqui both became fairly well-regarded American professional boxers, with Jacqui becoming a women’s champion.
18. Joe Frazier on Muhammad Ali
When Muhammad Ali was picked to light the Olympic torch at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Joe Frazier thought he should, not Ali should have been the one to do so. When asked about his missed chance, Joe said he would have pushed his rival into the lit cauldron.
Frazier took shots at Ali’s Parkinson’s, in a story published by “Sports Illustrated”, this time in response to a question from a 10-year-old girl on if he’d ever beaten Muhammad Ali.
“We locked up three times. He won two, and I won one. But look at him now. I think I won all three.”
Ali repeatedly tried to ask for forgiveness from Frazier, reassuring that he had said the things he did and did his public stunts, all to promote a fight. But Frazier simply never wanted any part of it.
Even if Joe Fraizer did finally say he forgave Ali, Frazier still managed to take subtle shots at his nemesis. For better or for worse, peers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier will forever be linked.
It’s unfortunate that the two rivals never fully reconciled before Frazier’s death in 2011. But that didn’t keep Ali from showing up to the funeral and applauding one last time for his longtime rival.
Ali passed five years later after Fraizer’s death.
19. He Will Be Missed Dearly And This Is How He Wanted To Be Remembered:
In an interview with AskMen:
There are discussions in Hollywood about a film. Fans stream out to meet me when I make public appearances and do corporate meet-and-greets. I’ve got my health. I get paid every week. I take care of the things I need to take care of. I’ve achieved “the American dream.” I feel it’s my duty to help others achieve their vision, too—especially the youth. Giving back is very important. I think people like me, who’ve been in the fight game, need to be there now. You took something out, put something back in. If you don’t have a car, and if you haven’t driven one before, how are you going to teach me?