Joe Frazier was a professional boxer and former World Heavyweight Champion. He was born on January 12, 1944 and was the youngest of several children. His parents were farmers and lived in Beaufort, South Carolina. They lived in relative poverty and Joe had to work as a farmhand from a very early age. He had a strong build and was interested in boxing from his childhood, when he first watched fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep and Rocky Graziano on the family’s black and white television. He used to work at a meat packing factory and would often punch the hanging animal carcasses to practice his punches. A scene inspired by this incident is shot in the film “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone. In 1959, at the age of 15, Frazier left home to go to New York to live with his elder brother and his family.
Frazier began boxing in 1961 under the training of Yank Durham. Durham helped the young Frazier to hone his technique and perfect his punches. During his amateur boxing career, he won three consecutive Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championships in 1962, 1963 and 1964. His only loss during his amateur career was to Buster Mathis, who also beat him in the final round of the U.S. Olympic Trials held at the World Fair in New York in 1964. However, his coach persuaded him to attend the Olympics nevertheless which proved to be extremely fruitful as Mathis became injured and Frazier took over for him. Despite injuring his thumb in the semi final fight, he ended up winning Olympic Gold.
He turned professional in 1965 and in just a year’s time, built up an impressive record of 11 victories to 0 losses. When Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, the title was up for grabs. The match for the title was held in 1970 between Jimmy Ellis and Frazier at Madison Square Garden. Frazier defeated Ellis in 4 rounds to become the World Champion. He defended his title against World Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster in Detroit. He then fought Muhammad Ali, who had successfully sued the WBA to win his license back. This fight took place on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York City and was titled “The Fight of the Century”. It was one of the most anticipated events of the century and drew crowds of thousands as it was the first time in history that two undefeated heavyweight champions were facing each other. The fight went the full 15 rounds, before Frazier was declared the unanimous winner.
Frazier successfully defended his title twice more before eventually losing it to George Foreman in January 1973. He then fought Ali for a second time, in which Ali was declared the winner. Their final, and one of the most memorable meetings, was the “Thrilla In Manila” held in Manila, Philippines. This was a punishing 14 round match in which both fighters were injured and exhausted, with Ali being the eventual winner. Frazier retired in 1976 with a career record of 32 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw, out of which 27 of the wins were by knockout. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame and is considered as one of the top 10 heavyweight boxers of all time.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali had a capricious relationship throughout their career, alternating between friendship and public enmity. Frazier reportedly had financial troubles because of mismanagement of his estate. He died in November 2011 of liver cancer, and Ali was one of the few attendants at his private funeral, presided over by Jesse Jackson.