Joe Frfazier-Muhammad Ali


Charlotte, NC– Every fighter needs another fighter to bring out the best in them. For Joe Frazier, it was, in his words, “Clay. “(Cassius Clay was Muhammad Ali’s birth name before he embraced Islam. At first, Frazier refused to call Ali by his Muslim name) In Joe Frazier’s autobiography, the buildup to Frazier-Ali I, Frazier said, “That god damned Clay [was]-a nonstop self-promoter. The sucker had fifty-seven varieties of bullshit-and he needed it all” to get back into boxing after being stripped of both his title and his license after refusing induction into the Army.


Here’s what many people do not know about Muhammad Ali; he is the one who grew up in more of a middle class America, both parents at home, working, middle class home, picket fence, the American dream. At least as much of the American dream as possible for people of color in America at that time. A loving family. Frazier, born in the Deep South, in Beaufort, SC, (that’s BYOU-fert, for those of you outside the South), raised on a farm, poor, picking radishes for twenty five cents a crate, having to eke out a living off the land. Hard people, loving family, but barely making ends meet.


While Ali was “exiled” from boxing, it was Frazier who approached Ali, trying to help him out financially, and trying to convince the powers that be to allow Ali to fight. Eventually Ali was allowed to fight, his sentences for refusal induction to military service overturned by the Supreme Court, and a fight was made with Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, which a rusty Ali won in round three. Quarry was stopped on cuts. In the meantime, Frazier beat Bob Foster, one of the greatest light heavyweights ever in two rounds. In fact, Foster was knocked so loopy that after the fight, back in the dressing room, Foster was trying to put his boxing shoes back on, and when asked what he was doing, Foster replied, “Got to go fight Frazier!” Foster didn’t even remember the fight!


Ali gets another fight, this time with the granite-jawed Argentine Oscar Bonavena, and Ali finally stops him in the 15th round. Now the stage is set for the battle of the unbeatens; Frazier-Ali I. Now history has recorded, and every casual fight fan knows that Ali had the gift of gab, much of that he emulated from pro wrestler Gorgeous George, and Ali did it to promote the gate and sell more tickets. Speaking of Joe Frazier and his nick name ‘Smokin’ Joe, Ali quipped, “I’ll be pecking and poking, I’ll be pouring water on Joe’s Smokin’.“ “I don’t care if they love me or hate me, as long as they pay to see me,” Ali once said. But another thing that many people don’t know, or don’t want to admit, is that hidden in that gift of gab was a bit of a mean streak. Yes, it was disguised as “promoting the gate” but it was a bit of a mean streak nonetheless, and it came out clearly in all three fights with Frazier. The barrage of name calling by Ali went way beyond promoting the gate, as can be seen by Ali calling Frazier an “Uncle Tom.” In fact, the fact that a lighter skinned black man ( who grew up more middle class ) was calling a much darker skinned black man ( who grew up much poorer ) “Uncle Tom” would have been laughable if there had not been so much vitriol and meanness behind it.


Frazier and Ali had three fights. Frazier won the first one hands down, knocking Ali down in the 15th round. Frazier-Ali II went to the score cards; the judges scored it by rounds 8-4; 7-4-1; 6-5-1; all for Ali. However, Referee Tony Perez warned Ali 150, that’s no typo, 150 times for Ali holding behind the head, with no point’s deduction and Red Smith, Sports Writer from the New York Times scored the fight 6-5-1 for Frazier, and Yours Truly, after watching that fight dozens of times still scores that fight 7-6 Frazier. It should also be noted that Ali seemingly had Joe on the verge of being KO’d when Perez stopped the second round 15 seconds too early. After some confusion, Frazier had recovered and the round was finished.


And of course, there is the famous “Thrilla-in Manila,” the third and most career defining bout between these two pugilists. Ali was winning the early rounds, Frazier dominating the middle rounds until the tenth, when he began to slow down. In round 14, Frazier, almost blinded from the swelling over g=his eye, Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer since Yank Durham passed, decides to stop the fight to protect his fighter. Ali said, “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight any more.” Ali later would claim “This was the closest to dying I have ever been!”


Smokin’ Joe had a style that was tailor made for both his mental and physical make up. Yank Durham, his trainer until his death, didn’t fool much with the raw mechanics of what Frazier had, rather Durham worked on smoothing out the flaws to use what Joe had naturally. To overcome his lack of height and reach, Joe needed to learn to get in close to an opponent without getting caught by jabs and straight rights from a taller fighter. So Frazier learned to slip punches (a lost art today) move his head and shoulders sideways to avoid punches as he moved in ( James Toney was good at this, as is Bernard Hopkins), and bending at the knees, bobbing and weaving, slipping and sliding, presenting a moving target as he fired his own punches. The thing was, with Frazier, his offense was his defense. Hence the name “Smokin’ Joe. The whole idea was that when Joe was hammering on an opponent, throwing punches nonstop, the opponent had his hands full trying to defend himself.


And that wasn’t anything novel. Rocky Marciano and Henry Armstrong had used the same type style with great success years before. Yet here’s the thing with Frazier; you knew what was coming. Nothing was going to change, he was coming in bobbing and weaving, throwing those left hook bombs, and only one or two ever stopped him. And it wasn’t “pecking and poking” that eventually poured water on Joe’s Smokin. It was Father Time. And Father Time is what eventually gets us all…

Professor Chuck Marbry


  • Frank Sinatra was the ringside photographer!

  • Hi There,

    Where can I find this photo? Who holds the copyright? We want to use it on a tv show. Thanks!

  • Thanks Eddie Crown for your insights into Joe Frazier. I’ve always respected Joe for what he went through to get to where he got but he just didn’t have the charisma of Ali who was the master of self promotion. So at every oppotunity he would get into the minds of his opponents which he did very well against Joe and it was up to frazier not to be psyched out as he was.
    However there is no way possible you can question Ali’s courage in the ring, he faced the toughest opponents of any era and defeated them all. Not only did he win all those battles but he did it with style, a true maestro of the pugilistic arts.
    Of the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ Ali said that at one stage Frazier hit him so hard everything went black and he just kept sticking his jab out even though he couldn’t see because he didn’t want to go down, he wanted to show the world that a scientific boxer would always win over a Fighter.
    Yes Ali wanted to quit late in the fight but that was no blight on Ali’s courage, and had Frazier come out for the 15th Ali would have knocked him out. Futch knew that, he knew Frazier was spent and just maybe saved Fraziers life.
    Frazier was great fighter and champion and we all thank him for what he gave the sport….. R.I.P ‘Smokin’

  • I am not American, I’m sorry for my English not correct but, I wanted to leave a salute to the man – Fraizer boxer who was more human, more human in front of his opponents without excess!

  • Pingback: Smokin’ Joe « The Half Empty Glass

  • Great article and a fantastic insight into two titans of a bygone (and sadly missed) era of boxing. I watched the Thrilla again last night (for the umpteenth time) and it never fails to enthrall me. Two great fighters,but the sad footnote is that Ali the Man never had the class of Ali the Boxer

  • Muhammad Ali did Joe Frazier wrong–a decent man who struggled hard all his life. Ali portrayed Joe as “the white man’s champion” and hurled the worst insult that one black man can call another by calling Frazier an “Uncle Tom”. Ali tried to create the stigma that Joe Frazier was the “house Negro” while Ali was the true and real black man and the “field Negro”. Ali’s selling this to America totally worked and has impacted the life of Frazier,today. It went well beyond selling their fight. The falsehood created by Ali about Frazier was among the cruelest thing one boxer has ever done to another. The cruelest thing that one Black man has done to another. Frazier took a worse beating in life, by not being truly accepted by the Black community, as he deserved– and fought for a better life–and succeeded. But is was Frazier who was a sharecroppers son–who worked on white man’s land in the fields. It was Frazier who grew up in one of the most racist places, Beaufort, SC. in poverty–where he sought escape. All while Ali lived in middle class America. That’s the truly sad part about all this is that Frazier was really the “field Negro” and “Ali the house Negro”. If anybody should have been a hero to the Black Community it was Joe Frazier and not Ali. Joe’s father was so poor that he made corn liquor and sold it on the side to help supplement his income for his family.

    In the 3rd fight Frazier was fighting much more than Ali. He was fighting for his legacy–he was fighting for his dignity as a human being–he was fighting for true acceptance in the Black Community–and he was fighting for his life. The irony is that everybody reveres Ali for his courage, while he was the one who wanted to quit on his stool, begging Dundee “to cut off the gloves”–while Frazier–blind in both eyes– was the one who wanted to fight on because he was fighting for much more than Ali was. To fight for all of the things that was said by him– the image created by Ali that was so far from reality. Joe had someone make that decision for him, Eddie Futch– and now all these years later Joe is still in Manila fighting and can’t let go. Ali sold his name for 50 million dollars while Frazier is very poor and lives above a burnt out gym in Philly, training young boxers. Words can hurt a person. They certainly hurt Joe Frazier– a true champion and a truly good man more than any of the punches delivered by Ali

  • Great read Professor! Keep up the good work!

  • Professor… Good article and I loved the “Father Time” reference. It is one I have used for years… And in this corner, bringing an impressive professional record of 27,654 and 0 to the ring, all big wins coming by way of Knockout… The one and only… Father Time!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Pedro,

    Joe is the apitimy of that saying about how if you hold the hate inside of you, it is just going to burn you to the ground… And its not just the money, he bitches about EVERYTHING re Ali! The Olympic Torch thing, the fact that Ali is more of an American Icon than he is… YEAH!?? Ali’s also very likely the most iconic athlete the planet has ever seen.

    I read a SI Article from the 90’s not long ago where some young child (5 or 6?) asked him about Ali and Fraizer pulled the “Look at him now” card on the kid… The kid probably wound up in therapy after that one. The whole “Ali doesn’t have Parkinson’s, he’s suffering from Joe Frazier, Left Hook-itis”.

    There was the banquet night (late 80’s, early 90’s?) honoring the living HW Legends where Larry Holmes and George Foreman ended up taking turns, keeping Joe off of Ali… And I can go on and on and on, until you jump me for posting to much.

    I met the guy one time, I’ve seen his act in person… And its not just Ali. The guy bitches about everything, up to and including the fact that he’s even got a problem with Sylvester Stallone over over the character Rocky Balboa and the entire Rocky franchise…???

    Now I find out from you he is bitching about Ali having more money too… Honestly, someone needs to pull Joe aside and ask him if he knows what a Pyrrhic Victory is…

  • He denied Ali a rematch, where he could have made five, maybe 10 million, an unheard of number at the time. Instead he fights Foreman and his career was over from that point on. Revenge backfired on Joe big time! His ego got in the way of good business and now he complains because Ali is worth so much money than he!

  • I really enjoyed that.

  • Ahhhh the glory days. What has happened to the heavyweight division? Professor, where is the next heavyweight force? Are there any amateurs making noise?

  • I think alot of boxing people gloss over the fact that after the 1st Ali fight Joe was never quite the same fighter. I don`t mean that in a way like Ali ruined him or anything, rather that Joe seemed to not really get up mentally for any other opponent than Ali after their 1st fight.
    I also think too many younger boxing fans don`t give the man enough credit and are too hard on him for the losses to Foreman. Joe was a slow starter and got caught by a big hitter it happens. Would have loved to see how Foreman would have handled Joes shots had the fight gone longer. The 2nd fight was kind of a wash since Joe was like 222lbs so can`t put must stock in that loss. Joe had a hard style that was not only hard on his opponents but on his own body and he had eye problums on top of that.
    He never made excuses he just showed up and worked.

  • Smokin Joe’s best revenge was to deny Ali a rematch after the Fight of The Century…Ali-Frazier I was a draw until round 11 and the knockdown clinched it for Joe….After Ali, Frazier only had 3 REAL fights left:Bugner, a Quarry rematch and Foreman….Terry Daniels and Ron Stander????? Joe could’ve slipped in Stander at the end of 1971, Bugner and Quarry in 1972 and Foreman in 1973 before retiring….

  • nice article!

  • I believe that the fight where Ali had Frazier going in the second round was fight 2, not fight 1.

  • Now that’s an article I can agree with professor. Well done.

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