Joseph William "Joe" Frazier, known as Smokin' Joe, was born in South Carolina to the son of a sharecropper, January 12, 1944. After initially visiting the boxing gym to get in shape, young Frazier would eventually compete and become one of the best amateur heavyweights in the nation.
When top amateur heavyweight Buster Mathis, who had defeated Frazier in the Olympic trials, suffered a hand injury and was unable to compete in the 1964 Olympics, Frazier replaced him and won a gold medal.
Frazier emerged as the top contender in the late 1960s, defeating the likes of Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Buster Mathis, Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo and Jimmy Ellis en route to becoming undisputed heavyweight champion in 1970.
Fight of the Century
On March 8, 1971, then heavyweight champion Joe Frazier reached the pinnacle of his career by defeating Muhammad Ali in the highly-anticipated "Fight of the Century." Each fighter was paid a mind-blowing purse (for the time) of $2.5 million USD. The build-up to the fight was like none other as the eyes of the entire world were fixated on the event.
The fight itself became something of a symbol of the United States. Leading up to the fight, Ali (who had denounced the Vietnam War) had refused induction into the U.S. Army in 1967, leading to him being stripped of his title and barred from fighting for three years. Ali became a symbol of the anti-establishment movement, while Frazier became a symbol of the conservative, pro-war movement, despite not vocalizing his political beliefs at the time.
After a bruising battle, Frazier retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss. It was rumored Frazier was so badly hurt after the fight, he was on the verge of a stroke in the hours proceeding it. Ironically, Joe Frazier - the winner - would never be the same after his first encounter with Ali.
Second Half of His Career
Two years following the "Thrilla in Manila," Frazier lost his title when he was knocked out by George Foreman in 1973. He fought on though, beating Joe Bugner but losing a rematch to Ali in 1975 in a fight dubbed the "Thrilla in Manila" - which is considered by boxing historians to be one of the greatest heavyweight title fights ever and was the third and final bout of their famous trilogy.
He retired in 1976 following his second loss to Foreman. Frazier made a comeback in 1981, fighting just once, before retiring for good.
Smokin' Joe made a cameo appearance in the first Rocky movie and its rumored some of the most memorable moments in the film, such as Rocky's carcass-punching scenes and Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art were are taken from Joe's real-life training regimen.
Frazier operated "Joe Frazier's Gym" in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which opened in 1968. Several notable fighters fighters trained there and received tutledge from Joe, including Vaughn Bean, Tyrell Biggs, Bert Cooper, Marvis Frazier, Willie Monroe, James Shuler, and Meldrick Taylor. The gym closed in 2008.
Known for his pulverizing left-hook in the ring and his humble and gentlemanly persona outside it, Frazier retired with a record of 32-4, 27 KOs and was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Smokin' Joe brought class and integrity to boxing.
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