Friday, November 11, 2011

Boxing: Joe Frazier, R.I.P.--a few photos, a few thoughts

Text and photos by George Molé

I knew almost nothing about Joe Frazier or the sport of boxing, and that's still not far from true.  But I had heard enough about Frazier's famous gym in North Philadelphia--where he himself had lived and trained and where, with his son Marvis, he had trained many other fighters both famous and obscure--that on a trip to Philly almost two years ago, I wanted to go by and see it.

Vacant.  Empty.  Nobody home. 

Some internet research revealed, as I recall, that the gym had been on the verge of closing for a while, generating a bit of drama each time it was imperiled and then reprieved, but finally had lost its lease and closed for good in 2008.

It was sad, really, to see this building, which had been the home and headquarters of a great American athlete, the site of a good bit of sports history, a focus of interest and excitement for the city, and an oasis of learning and discipline for many young people, reduced to just another vacant building in a neighborhood full of them.  You could still see some interesting details, like these boxing gloves engraved on the facade...

...and, taped to a receptionist's window visible when you peered in through the glass of the locked front doors...

...a homemade sign reading "Welcome to Smokin' Joe Frazier's Gym."

An article running this week in the Philadelphia media says that the gym building... now a furniture store.  At least it's still standing; let's hope they landmark it.

Then, last December, I attended a holiday event given by Ring 8, one of the great organizations in the New York area dedicated to providing support for older fighters in need of medical care, financial help, housing or other necessities (another such group is Ring 10, of which I'm a member).  And there was Frazier (below right), present with Marvis (left) to receive the group's Father/Son Award.

Frazier seemed to show some of his age as he walked to the podium...

...and I don't recall much about his speech, other than an impression that it was short...

...and somewhat difficult to understand. But it was still Frazier.  And, best of all...

...he autographed my two Frazier/Ali posters.  Both were signed by Marvis as well...

...and this second one was also signed by former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks--who, like Frazier, was one of the few to beat Muhammad Ali.

I think I like the following photo the most...

...a tableau showing Spinks (in the red hat), Marvis, boxer Vinny Maddalone (standing, in the gray suit), an unidentified member of the U.S. military, and Frazier, displaying the familiar open-mouthed laugh that can be seen in many photos of him.  Who could have known he had less than a year to live?

This is my favorite Frazier quote, as recounted recently in the New York Post.  "Frazier came at Ali with a vengeance [during their Manila fight].  At one point Ali, gaining new respect for Frazier, whispered in his ear:  'Joe, they told me you was all washed up.’  [Frazier's] response to Ali was classic:  'They told you wrong, pretty boy.’’’

Even Spider-Man, that most quick-witted of superheroes, could not have riposted so sharply in the midst of combat.

But I like this quote, too, also from the Post, in which Frazier reflected on Ali and on mortality:  “I don’t have the burning hate anymore...I hope he lives a pleasant part of his life.  We all don’t make three scores and 10.  But with the little time we have left, I’d like to live it clean and live it fine and enjoy some of the things we all like to enjoy.  I can’t see nothing wrong with that. I’m hoping he can do these things, too.”

Considering that Ali (who always seemed to me an unadmirable boor) was supposed to be the wordsmith of the two, Frazier didn't do too badly at all in expressing himself.  Rest in peace.
Joe Frazier, 1944-2011

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At November 16, 2011 at 4:33 PM , Anonymous Barry Reitman said...

Nice piece, George! I recall a scene, filmed while Ali was still barred from earning a living because of his refusal to be drafted. A car pulled up at some event, and Frazier and Ali both emerged. Ali, seeing the cameras, instantly went into his "Joe Frazier, you're a bum" routine. Joe just looked at him with some puzzlement on his face. What the photographers didn't know is that on the ride there, Frazier had quietly slipped a few thousand dollars into Ali's pocket to help him get by.

At November 18, 2011 at 5:23 PM , Anonymous Bob Ornitz said...

Really enjoyed that piece about Joe Frazier..... brought back memories of the fab 60's & 70's.


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