Named to the team as an alternate, Frazier got his chance when a hand injury forced Mathis to yield his position on the American team. Frazier defeated Hans Huber of Germany to win the gold medal.
Boxer. Joe Frazier was born in Beaufort on January 12, 1944, the youngest of twelve surviving children of Rubin and Dolly Frazier. His parents farmed ten acres and eked out a living largely by working for local white landowners.
Frazier quit school at fourteen and a year later moved to New York to live with relatives, but he found little regular employment. He moved to Philadelphia, where he again lived with relatives and eventually found employment at Cross Brothers, a meat slaughterhouse. By 1961 he had developed a weight problem and went to a Police Athletic League gym.
There Frazier met Duke Dugent, who managed the gym, and the boxing trainer Yancey (Yank) Durham. In less than a year he had lost thirty pounds and gained skill in the ring. Frazier won the Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight championship in 1962, then won three consecutive Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight titles from 1962 to 1964.
Frazier married his South Carolina girlfriend Florence Smith in 1963 and continued to work at Cross Brothers and hone his boxing skills. He reached the finals of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Trials against Buster Mathis, to whom he suffered his only amateur loss. Named to the team as an alternate, Frazier got his chance when a hand injury forced Mathis to yield his position on the American team. Frazier defeated Hans Huber of Germany to win the gold medal.
Frazier turned professional after the Olympics and was brought along slowly by Durham for three years. By 1967 he was considered the ranking contender after Muhammad Ali was stripped of the world heavyweight title for resisting the Vietnam draft. Frazier reversed his amateur loss to Buster Mathis with a knockout that won him the New York version of the heavyweight title. After defending that title four times, he won the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight championship by knocking out Jimmy Ellis in 1969.
After a successful defense, Frazier faced Ali, restored to the sport by the courts, in the first of three politically charged bouts. At New York’s Madison Square Garden, Frazier won “the Fight of the Century” with a fifteen-round decision on March 8, 1971, to retain his title. He would defend two more times before losing the crown to George Foreman by knockout in January 1973. The year would end with a win over Joe Bugner in England.
Frazier lost his rematch with Ali at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974. A third match took place on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines: “The Thrilla in Manila.” It was a savage fight, even by the standards of a brutal sport. After fourteen rounds, Frazier’s eyes were swollen shut, and his trainer Eddie Futch would not allow him to answer the bell for the final round. A second loss to Foreman in the summer of 1976 prompted Frazier’s retirement. Five years later a comeback attempt ended in a draw with Floyd Cummings, and Frazier left the ring for good, closing his career with a 34–4–1 record, including twenty-seven knockouts.
In retirement, Frazier performed as the lead singer of Smokin’ Joe and the Knockouts. He also invested in a limousine service and a restaurant. He purchased his former gym in Philadelphia and established an opportunity for aspiring boxers. Frazier was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1974 and the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980.
Frazier, Joe, with Phil Berger. Smokin’ Joe. New York: Macmillan, 1996.
Kram, Mark. Ghosts of Manila. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.