Thursday, June 30, 2022

Boxer Joe Frazier’s Visit

Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. He can be reached at scott@coopwood.net.
Last week, I was cleaning out some filing cabinets in my office when I ran across a newspaper clipping of the death of famous boxer, Joe Frazier, along with some notes I had taken the day he visited me in my office here in Cleveland four years before his death. Frazier died from liver cancer in 2011. Looking at this newspaper article and my notes, all I could think about was that unique visit which was a short stop-off before an appearance he was making that evening at Delta State.
With his son, Marvis sitting next to him on the couch in my office, Frazier spent three hours that day telling me about his life, his famous boxing career, and an HBO Special about his legendary fight with Muhammed Ali billed as the “Thilla in Manila”. Along the way in his conversation that afternoon, he also couldn’t stop making snide comments about Ali. After all of these years, Ali still got to him.
I remember that day, Frazier telling me he spent his childhood in South Carolina, later moved to New York, but became an adult living in Philadelphia. He told me as a child, he used to sit in front of an old black and white TV with his father watching the famous boxing fights of Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano. He said when he was growing up, all he could think about was becoming the next Joe Louis. While he was telling me the story of his life, I looked at his big hands several times, thinking about all of the fighters he had punched with them through his career. Sometimes while he was talking, rambling mostly, I found it very surreal that this legendary boxer was sitting in my office, in Cleveland, Mississippi, telling me about his life. Amazing.
Frazier told me how he won several Golden Glove heavyweight championships and later boxed on the Olympic Team –– winning the Olympic gold boxing medal in 1964. He said all of that caught the attention of several managers and businessmen including boxing promoter, Larry Merchant, who backed Frazier financially. However, Frazier said his career took off when he finally fought Muhammed Ali in front of a world wide TV audience in Madison Square Garden in New York in March, 1971. With is famous left hook, Frazier delivered a knock-down punch to Ali in the 15th round, but won the fight by a unanimous decision.
Frazier later lost his world championship to George Foreman, whom he said he liked “somewhat”, although he even made negative comments about Foreman and the products Foreman pitched on TV. However, it was Ali who brought Frazier back into fame with their second match in 1974 in New York, of which Frazier won by unanimous decision after going 12 rounds. They met one more time in the Philippines during their famous “Thrilla in Manila” match, but this time Ali won because Frazier’s team threw in the towel in the middle of the fight. Ali had punched Fraizer so many times that Frazier’s eyes were almost swollen shut.
“I was winning that fight,” Frazier said to me, according to my notes from that afternoon.
Frazier told me the movie Rocky was based on his life and that Sylvester Stallone put parts in Rocky that were taken directly from his life and career — such as Rocky punching the cow carcasses hanging in a meat factory and then Rocky running up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of his training regimen.
“I did all of that and told Stallone about it,” Frazier said. Frazier said Stallone put those elements in Rocky without his permission.
Frazier spent the remainder of his life coaching young boxers and making public appearances. In 1996, he wrote his autobiography, Smokin’ Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion.
He told me he had made millions of dollars throughout the years, but that people “had stolen it,” and that he had lost some of it in “bad investments.”
“You see how Ali shakes so much now,” Frazier asked me. “I did that to him.” (Since 1984, Ali has been suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome). His son Marvis quickly interrupted, “Now don’t say that, you don’t mean that, that’s not true.”
“It’s a fact,” Frazier quickly snapped.
Interestingly, upon hearing the news of Frazier’s death in the newspaper article I found, Ali responded: “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.”
I liked Frazier and especially his son, Marvis.
And, I’ll never forget the afternoon I spent with one of America’s greatest boxers here in Cleveland.

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