Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Frazier was born on January 12, 1944 to the late Rubin and Dolly Frazier. "Billyboy," his nickname given by his father. Joe was the youngest of 13 children. He was literally his father's left hand man after he lost part of his left arm in a tractor incident. Having to help his father take care of family responsibilities, Joe dropped out of school in the sixth grade.
Not long after helping his father, Joe seriously injured his left arm after the family's 300-pound hog chased him. Trying to escape the animal, Joe fell and hit his left arm on a brick. His arm was badly torn and Joe was not able to see a doctor, so the arm had to heal on its own. Joe was never able to keep this arm fully straight again which led to the development of his signature weapon, his legendary left hook.
At a young age, Joe knew he wanted to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, following in the footsteps of his hero, the immortal Joe Louis.
While he was a teenager, Joe developed his punching power by hitting a burlap sack filled with bricks, moss, corncobs, rags, which hung from a tree in the backyard of the family farm in Beaufort, South Carolina. He wrapped his hands in his father's ties or mother's stockings and hit the bag .
After leaving Beaufort when he was 16, Joe eventually relocated to Philadelphia. Shortly after moving to the "City of Brotherly Love," Joe found work as a butcher at Cross Brothers Meeting Packing. When he was not training at a local gym, Joe would train in the meat locker during lunch breaks and after work, pounding on the hanging carcasses of cattle.
Joe's amateur career began in 1962 when he was 18 years old. He trained at the Philadelphia PAL (Police Athletic League) and short after won three consecutive Heavyweight Golden Gloves Titles from 1962, 1963 and 1964.
Joe was favored to win the heavyweight division in the boxing tournament to determine the representative for the United States in the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Joe lost a close decision to Buster Mathis in the finals, but remained on the team as an alternate. During training, Mathis broke a knuckle on his right hand and was unable to represent the U.S. Joe was selected as his replacement.
In the opening round of the tournament, Joe knocked out Uganda’s George Oywello in the first round. In the second round, Joe knocked out the Australia’s Athol McQueen opponent in 40 seconds of the third round.
In the heavyweight semi-final match, Joe overwhelmed the Soviet Union’s Vadim Yemelyanov in the second round, prompting his opponent’s trainers to stop the fight. However, during the bout, Joe broke his left hand, but did not inform his trainers. Instead, he soaked his hand in Epsom Salts to ease the pain and allow him to fight for the Gold Medal against West Germany’s Hans Huber.
In a close three-round bout, Joe won a judge’s decision over Huber, 3-2, becoming the only American boxer to win a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Because of his broken left thumb, Frazier had to wait until 1965 to begin his professional career. Joe won his first four bouts by knockout, with none of his opponents lasting more than three rounds. However, later that year, Joe injured his left eye in a training accident. He would fight the rest of his career with an eye that would become legally blind, but he succeeded in keeping his condition a secret.
Under the tutelage of trainer Yancey “Yank” Durham, Frazier would tear through the heavyweight division, defeated contenders, including Eddie Machen, Oscar Bonavena, Doug Jones and George Chuvalo.
Frazier would win partial recognition as heavyweight champion when he knocked out Buster Mathis in 11 rounds at New York’s new Madison Square Garden on March 4th, 1968. He defended that title three times, knocking out Manuel Ramos and Jerry Quarry, while winning a decision over Bonavena.
Two years later, he won universal recognition when he stopped World Boxing Association champion Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round, again, at the Garden. He would hold the heavyweight title for nearly five years.
The biggest highlight of Joe’s storied career was his legendary trilogy with Muhammad Ali. Frazier won a 15-round unanimous decision over Ali on March 8th, 1971 in the “Fight of the Century,” knocking “The Greatest” down in the 15th round. Joe would lose a close 12-round decision to Ali in a non-title bout in 1974. Perhaps their greatest fight was 1975’s “Thrilla In Manila,” when Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight after the 14th round, in what many consider one of the greatest fights in history.
In 1976, Joe retired at 32, following his second defeat to George Foreman. Five years later, Joe made a brief comeback, drawing with Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings, after which he retired for good.
Joe Frazier passed away on November 7, 2011, succumbing to liver cancer.
Joe had a big heart and loved his family and community "Smoke mentored countless men and women, who came to his famous Broad Street gym. Many of them became not only great boxers, but also great citizens of the world. Joe left six sons, five daughters and a host of family and friends to cherish his memory.
'Smokin' Joe" may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.
The Legacy Continues
With a long fight for respect from people, on Septemeber 12, 2015, Smoke was honored with a bronze statue in Philadelphia. It was well deserved for his humanitarianisim in the city and his hard work in the ring.