Joe Frazier was the world heavyweight boxing champion from February 1970 until January 1973 and fought in the famous “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.
Born January 12, 1944, in Beaufort, South Carolina, Joe Frazier was the world heavyweight boxing champion from February 16, 1970, until January 22, 1973, when boxing great George Foreman beat him. Frazier is perhaps best remembered for his grueling 14 round match against Muhammad Ali in the Philippines, known as the Thrilla in Manila, which Ali won by TKO. Frazier died of liver cancer in 2011.
The Youngest of 12 children, boxer Billy Joe Frazier was born January 12, 1944, in Beaufort, South Carolina. His parents, Rubin and Dolly Frazier, were sharecroppers, so the family never had much money. By the age of 15, Frazier, who’d quit school two years before, was on his own. He moved to New York City to live with an older brother and find work. Employment, however, was hard to come by, and to put cash in his pocket he started stealing cars and selling them to a junkyard in Brooklyn.
But Frazier harbored dreams of doing something with his life. Many of those dreams were built around boxing. As a younger kid, back in South Carolina, he had dreamed of becoming the next Joe Louis, airing out punches at burlap bags he’d filled with leaves and moss.
Up north Frazier’s love for boxing didn’t subside. After moving to Philadelphia, Frazier found work at a slaugherhouse, where he routinely punched sides of beef stored in a refrigerated room. That scene later inspired Sylvester Stallone for his 1976 film, “Rocky.”
It wasn’t until 1961, though, that Frazier entered the ring and actually began to box. He was rough and undisciplined, but his unpolished talent caught the eye of trainer Yank Durham.
A Champion’s Rise
Under the direction of Durham, who shortened Frazier’s punches and added power to his devastating left hook, the young boxer quickly found success. For three straight years he was the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves Champion, and he captured the gold medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
He turned pro in 1965 and in just under a year had compiled an 11-0 record. In March 1968 he was crowned heavyweight champion, a result that stemmed in part from Muhammad Ali getting stripped of his heavyweight title the year before, after refusing to be drafted.
In 1970 Ali successfully sued to get his boxing license back, setting the stage for the sport’s highly anticipated matchup between Frazier and Ali.
Ali vs Frazier
While the two fighters may have respected each other, the two men were clearly not friends. Frazier steamed at the vocal Ali, who repeatedly called him a “gorilla” and an “Uncle Tom.” Years later Frazier’s anger still hadn’t cooled: After seeing Ali, battling Parkinson’s disease, light the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Frazier told reporters he would have liked to have “pushed him in.”