Boxing legend Joe Frazier lost his last fight to liver cancer but one of his nephews remembers him as a people’s champion and a fighter to the end.
Joe Frazier fought many battles in his life and held the heavyweight championship of the world for several years.
Yet on Monday, Nov. 7, the man known as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, 67, died after his brief bout with liver cancer.
“I was at work when I heard the news,” said R. Frazier, nephew of the late Joe Frazier and a San Quentin correctional officer.
Frazier was famous for his military stance and street brawling style. He defeated Muhammad Ali in 1971 at Madison Square Gardens, retaining his heavyweight title. He floored Ali with a devastating left hook in the 15th round during the grueling battle titled the Fight of the Century.
“The first thing that went through my mind was that someone was giving out some bad information,” the nephew said about the passing of his uncle.
C/O Frazier said his family was notified a week earlier that his uncle had more time to live.
“But upon further information,
I see that wasn’t at all true,” he added.
About 4,000 people attended the funeral service held at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali were among the celebrity guests there.
“Rev. Jesse Jackson said my uncle was not just the average Joe,” said Frazier. “The reverend impressed us when he said he wasn’t just a nobody from nowhere, but he became a somebody, not just an average Joe.”
Joe Frazier was the son of a South Carolina sharecropper and became a boxer by accident.
He first went to the gym to get into shape. Soon after, Frazier began fighting competitively, becoming one of the best amateur heavyweights in the nation.
“In 1969 uncle Joe Frazier would come home to train,” C/O Frazier said.
“He was my uncle on my father’s side and he would bring his entourage and bodyguards to train with him,” said Frazier.
“The family supported their boxing relative by going to the local civic center to watch his fights.”
Frazier was a country boy who lived by an old adage: “When you go to the big party, you dance with the one who brung ya.” For the relentless boxer, that was his signature left hook.
Frazier went pro in 1965 and amassed 11 straight wins under the guidance of Yank Durham. “That was his line of work,” Frazier said. “He had to provide for his family; he had to be good at it.”
When the other guy stepped into the ring, said Frazier, his uncle felt like the other guy was taking food from his family. “Like Sonny Liston, who my uncle beat.”
Frazier said Ali was negative and called him names to disturb his game plan.
“Ali called him an Uncle Tom. That made my uncle want to hit him even harder,” said Frazier. “I distinctly remember him tell Ali, ‘I am no Uncle Tom.’”
Frazier’s rebuttal led up to their last fight in 1975, a 14-round fight in Quezon City outside of the Philippines capital of Manila, touted by Ali as The Thrilla in Manila.
“It was the closest I’ve come to death,” Ali said after winning the title.
One of the noted sports phrases based on a Frazier-George Foreman fight, “Down goes Frazier,” was noted by a preacher at the funeral who added, “But he got back up.”
The nephew said he thought he was the only one who said “But he got back up.”“After today, instead of saying, ‘Down goes Frazier,’ we can now say, ‘Up goes Frazier,’” said the nephew.
–Sports Editor Gary Malachi Scott contributed to this article