Frazier: The Lost Last Summer Smoke

By Michael Schmidt on July 5, 2013
Frazier: The Lost Last Summer Smoke
Smokin' Joe Frazier sits on the promenade with Jean-Claude Bouttier and two pretty girls.

Fast forward a few years and the Concord Hotel looked as if it was a Hollywood movie set for perhaps the Horror Classic “The Shining”…

June 27, 1971, Pres de Nice, France

The Heavyweight Champion of the World, looking soft of belly a mere three months after an epic “Fight of the Century” is sitting on the promenade with world-class middleweight Jean-Claude Bouttier and two pretty girls. Summertime and the living is easy in this area of France, with pretty girls and multi-million dollar yachts a hand reach away.
December 2, 1971
Concord Hotel, Kiamesha Lake, New York

It is 5:25 am, early morning, and eleven degrees below zero. Two large black men come down the steps of the Concord Hotel and start a steady jog, their breath ghostly in the air of darkness. This Route 42, Monticello/Fallsburg area hotel, of bygone Borscht Belt times is a place of 2,000 acres, 1,500 rooms, of skiing, ice skating, summer swimming, mystical summer nights of the “Dirty Dancing” type and, in its day, predominately inhabited by weekending Jewish Americans.

The Concord is a place of weekend entertainment of the likes of Milton Berle, Tony Bennett, and, back on a hot Friday night in August 1963, some young kid named Barbra Streisand. It is a recreational paradise of 40 tennis courts, 24 ping-pong tables, and various other activities but the two large black men are not here for that sort of activity. They are here for the creational activity of molding their bodies and minds to peak violence of the Sweet Science kind.

The steady pace continues around the lake, which will be frozen soon. One man stands 5’11”, is 27 years old, and is in his fighting prime with a record of 27 wins and 23 knockouts:  The undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, is dressed in a heavy blue hoodie and long green sweatpants.

The other man, 6’3” but seemingly much bigger when met in person, is adorned, but not yet acclaimed, in a salmon/red hoodie and matching sweatpants. He is 28 years old with a 23 win, 1 loss record with 20 knockouts. Ken Norton! At 6:05 am, after three steady miles, both men arrive back at the hotel.

Norton usually gets up at 4:15 am and starts his day with a full body stretch, and upon return from his run has a shower and a 15-minute nap. He follows that with a breakfast of 9 eggs, 7 pieces of bacon, 8 pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, 2 glasses of orange juice, 2 glasses of milk and after breakfast takes a three-mile walk before returning for a sleep. At 1:00 pm it is normally “gym” time. Two big men, built to battle, go hard at each other, day after day. The work is so hard that sparring between the two of them, Norton and Frazier, is usually limited to two rounds. Norton needs all that sustenance for the work at hand.

Ken Norton acts as one of Frazier’s sparring partners and will do so over a two-year period earning the sum of $500.00 per week. Sparring sessions are short and violent.  Frazier goes hard in sparring and Norton responds. A mistake, according to Norton, and “you lost your head” or “at the very least, he could break your ribs”. But the training camp this time is not the same as last.

This is the same place, this Concord Catskill way, where Frazier has sequestered himself in the past to prepare for the destruction of the likes of Bonavena, Quarry, Ramos, Mathis, and Ellis.  Frazier is preparing for a January 15, 1972 title defense against Terry Daniels and it will be a full 10 months since his epic battle with Ali. As it will turn out, Frazier will enter the fight at the heaviest weight of his career against an opponent that is substantially smaller and substantially less powerful. 

March 8, 1971, Frazier vs. Ali I, aka “Fight of the Century”

It was billed as the “Fight of the Century” but in truth it was and probably remains the biggest sporting event ever. It captured the imagination of a general population and transcended boxing in itself; two undefeated Heavyweight Champions, the exiled Clay/Ali and “Smokin’” Joe Frazier. They were divergent personalities of different backgrounds and religious divide highlighted by the changing times of the 1960s.

There would be no higher mountain for Frazier to climb than what took place March 8, 1971 and he left a substantial portion of himself in the ring that night. Training camp for that fight opened and Frazier was already “Smokin’”: three quick minutes of skipping, three minutes on the speed bag, three minutes on the heavy bag, three rounds shadowboxing, three more rounds of sparring, and three minutes of finishing calisthenics.  He was a machine, moving station to station, punching, moving, moving, moving, moving… 

Perhaps Frazier’s spring break, spring broken, was more so than Ali’s in the end result. Frazier checked into the hospital for a week after the fight. His wife Florence commented, “Joe has bad headaches but he’ll be alright.” But not the same! No, not the same!

June 27, 1971, School’s Out for the Summer Smoke
Pres de Nice, France

“Joe Frazier and the Knockouts” are on a European singing tour.  The Champion has cut a record for Capital including the tunes “Truly, Truly, Lovin! Me” and in a song perhaps of portent, “If You Go, Stay Gone”. In truth the music fans were truly, truly not “Lovin” Joe. The Knockouts were being knocked out practically playing to empty clubs in Germany, Spain, and Italy and a final show in Rome had to be cancelled after only 50 people bought tickets at the “Palace of Sports”. January 15, 1972.

January 15, 1972.  The Big Easy Ain’t So. Endless Summer No More!
Joe Frazier vs. Terry Daniels, New Orleans

Joe Frazier has entered the ring at the heaviest of his career 215.5 pounds. The 191.5 pound Terry Daniels sports a record of 29 wins and 4 losses. (He will retire with a 35-30 won/loss record.) In the first round Daniels is stretched flat, face first, only to be saved by the bell as he gets up at the count of eight. In the second round Frazier is hurt by Daniels with a huge uppercut and a right hand. Daniels is again down twice in the third round, once up at nine and once again to be saved by the bell. It is curious that Frazier cannot keep the small man down. In the fourth round Daniels, again stretched face first from a left hook, gets up and then is pounded and, as he is draped over the ropes, the fight is waived off at 1 minute 25 seconds. After the fight Frazier acknowledges that Daniels rocked him and that “he felt him good.” There is a small mouse under Frazier’s eye.

Endless Summer Aftermath / Summer and No Smoke

Jose Torres: “I, for one, think that Joe didn’t look at all like that indestructible machine…my conclusion: Frazier has lost interest in the sport of flat noses…Well, Joe Frazier is a Pro. He has made a lot of money. He is ready to retire. Anytime. And now is anytime…He proved to be the best man of his time…Joe Frazier became the most important athlete that night of March 8, 1971 when he displaced Muhammad Ali as number one.” 

Bert Sugar: “Testimonials are usually given to boxers after they finish their careers. This fight was a Testimonial given to Joe Frazier during his career. More’s the pity. He and boxing deserved better…!”

The Power and the Glory. Stop Right Now!

Where would one have rated Joe Frazier, freeze frame, after that mystical March Madison Square Garden night where he left all that was in the ring against Ali and quite clearly was but a shadow of smoke after? Summer had to end sometime! Two return defenses against Daniels and Stander, each of who buzzed Frazier, could easily be explained as a Champion, upon return from an epic battle, underestimating the opponent. Then came the great unknown of bigger, stronger, heavier hitting George Foreman. We then knew what George Foreman was but then what was Frazier at that point?

It was the Joe Bugner fight when, yes, we knew of Frazier’s depletion. It was all there to see, as vivid as a LeRoy Neiman painting, in the 10th round.  Frazier had Bugner dead to rights, Cooney-Norton style, left hook ready to go on the ropes, and simply backed off in a moment of boxing charitable humanity. Where was the man that was beating the hell out of sparring partners on a regular basis?  Well, towards the end of that very round, it was Bugner who had rocked Frazier with a right hand and was maneuvering Frazier towards the ropes as the bell rang! 

Oh Joe, Joe, Joe if you only stayed true to your own song, “If You Go, Stay Gone”!  Where would you have placed in Heavyweight Lore if you had simply retired after that March 8, 1971 night? As it stands, and wherever Frazier stands, Heavyweight Legacy wise, he will, as the great Torres commented, be remembered at that unique moment in history, March 8, 1971, as the “Best man of his time.” In our own time, time of our own, so few to reach such heights.

For Champion Frazier that summer of ’71 must have seemed as if “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” 

Fast forward a few years and the Concord Hotel looked as if it was a Hollywood movie set for perhaps the Horror Classic “The Shining”.  Rooms were abandoned and rotting. The parking lot was full of weeds and the Cabanas were long destroyed. For several times a year the New York State Firemen’s Association used the grand old place for Firefighting exercises. The fires were, of course, put out with images remaining of “Smokin’” still floating about in cold morning air. It was the end of an era.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 1 FULL FIGHT

Joe Frazier vs Terry Daniels

George Foreman vs Joe Frazier I

Joe Frazier vs Joe Bugner

Joe Frazier - My Way [Knockout Records]

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  1. Brian McClain 03:05pm, 06/04/2016

    The Concord Hotel was also the site of Muhammed Ali’s training camp in preparation for fighting George Foreman in Zaire in October, 1974. I was a 10-year-old sixth-grader at Monticello Middle School when word got around that Ali would be closing his training with an open meet and greet at the Concord. I was there, as were several hundred others, mostly local residents. The event was held in a glass-walled room immediately adjacent to the Concord’s large indoor swimming pool. Fresh from completing his last workout at the hotel before heading to NYC, en route to leaving for Africa, Ali , the consummate showman, kept his red boxing gloves on for dramatic effect while he fielded questions from the crowd. He was also wearing a white terry cloth robe. I don’t recall too many of the questions, although I do recall that one of the local boys, a precocious high school kid who sort of fancied himself a budding sports reported, asked Ali to predict the round in which he would win the fight. I do not recall Ali’s answer. Anyway, aftexurage to an exit, where a black limousine waited to whisk him away. The crowd tried to move en masse toward the exit, but of course it was too densely packed for anyone to make much progress. Being a small lad, however, I squirmed through the crowd, and quickly found my way outside, between the door and the car. Since the door and the walls were all glass, the whole crowd could still see Ali as he approached his vehicle. I sort of got right in front of the champ just as he turned for a final word with the crowd. Out of some instinct, I held my fists up in front of me as Ali started pumping his huge red gloves up and down, striking my tiny fists. With each pump, like a drumbeat, one strike per syllable, he led the crowd in a stirring chant. His urgent yell, his war cry, echoes in my ears to this day: “FOREMAN MUST FALL! FOREMAN MUST FALL! FOREMAN MUST FALL!” Then he got into his limo and was off for Africa to make good on his vow…

  2. Mike Schmidt 01:52pm, 07/09/2013

    Thanks “Cutman.” I hear you have a busy August coming up—no white shirts for you lad—Hope to see you soon

  3. Carlos varela jr. 12:22pm, 07/09/2013

    Honoring one of the greater heavyweight champions of all times, bring backs memories of an amazing era in boxing more than a great champion Joe Frazier was a great man humble down to earth, he likes singing a lot I had the honor to meet him at Atlas Boxing Club in Toronto Ontario Canada he was an amazing human being, great article Mr. Michael Schmudt.

  4. Mike Schmidt 08:06am, 07/08/2013

    Mr J.S I am on the road and can’t link to your email so hopefully as per Julie, Diamond Don, and Christy you get this (and thanks Julie, D.D and Christy over in France on this one—MERCI BEAUCOUP and to you J.S yes “JOIE DE VIVRE” sometimes and thanks, yes sometimes still not bad when the time presents itself—glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Mike Schmidt 06:20pm, 07/07/2013

    beaujack, Sir, what a fantastic moment and memory—thank you very very much for sharing

  6. Matt McGrain 04:28am, 07/07/2013

    You took a bit of a chance with the arc here Mike. Paid off.  Good stuff.

  7. Clarence George 08:47am, 07/06/2013

    Jolt is right, Mike C.  What a lesson not to look up one’s girlfriends from days of yore.

  8. Mike Casey 07:41am, 07/06/2013

    You’re so right, Clarence. Linda was such a beauty. Mind you, take a look at some now-and-then shots of Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane - even more of a jolt!!
    Eric, you’re right - that was a fabulous era.

  9. Eric 07:20am, 07/06/2013

    Linda Ronstadt was a babe back in the day. And to think Linda isn’t in the Rock & Roll HOF. I know she did a lot of remakes but her versions were always better. Saw her on the Tonight Show back in the mid-80’s and you could tell Johnny Carson was completely struck by how gorgeous she was, beautiful eyes, and what a voice. The seventies and early eighties gave us the best period for female rockers like Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Patty Smythe, Chrissie Hynde, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, etc. Oh and Ms. Turner also made a comeback during that time.

  10. Clarence George 07:09am, 07/06/2013

    Food for thought, Mike C.  Linda Ronstadt and Tina Turner…I wonder.

    My God, what Linda looks like today—the ravages of time…and the Norton Nutritional Approach.

  11. Mike Casey 06:44am, 07/06/2013

    Very good, Mike, and I echo your feelings about Joe. He was 208lbs for the Fight of the Century and never hit that weight again. Compare that to how fleshy he looked against Foreman in Kingston. Would be interested to know from someone if his two companions here are Linda Ronstadt and Tina Turner?

  12. beaujack 09:05pm, 07/05/2013

    I will always remember one afternoon about 1970, I travelled up to the Concord Hotel where this afternoon Joe Frazer was training for a fight. Can’t remember for which bout, but it was before the FOTC which I saw at MSG. I remember going into the gym where there was one ring before the boxers entered. Sitting all by my lonesome self, who enters ALONE but Joe Frazer who sits down 3 or 4 chairs from me wrapping tape on his hands…I was awestruck and drymouthed ,too nervous to say anything to this unbeaten great fighter…I wanted to say,” hya Joe, I saw you box Buster Mathis in the 1964 Olympic trials in Flushing “, but no words came out of my mouth. Frazier looked so darn tough looking that I said to myself,“I’m glad that I’m not entering the ring with him “. Luckily a few silent minutes passed, and his trainer Yank Durham and a sparring partner entered the gym and started to spar in the ring…After the session ended, Frazier left for the showers and Yank Durham remained to graciously answer questions from a few bystanders…I recall how highly Durham spoke about Rocky Marciano in answer to a question… Not long after I saw the FOTC in MSG sitting in the end balcony with my binoculars…Truly a night to remember for me…This FOTC was the high water mark for Joe Frazier as a great fighter…His body seemed to soften and he did not have a long prime IMO. But he was a brave and decent man Smoking Joe…

  13. George Thomas Clark 01:54pm, 07/05/2013

    Pretty damn good rendition of “My Way” by Smokin’ Joe…

  14. Mike Schmidt 01:38pm, 07/05/2013

    To LeRoy Neiman, Artist In Residence Heaven, and to Mr. Neiman’s staff it is with regret that I never was able to give proper respect by way of an article, never done, “Hotel Duran,” with your drawing of Duran released for my use.  How kind of all of you—It was not of want of trying—pretty hard to try and remotely measure up to those mystic moments you captured—On a cold morning Upstate New York, way back when, LeRoy Neiman documented time, place, and face(s) of Joe and Kenny. To Mr. Neiman may you rest in artist heaven, “Man at Leisure” certainly in a working sense. Thanks…......

  15. Eric 12:59pm, 07/05/2013

    Joe Frazier was never the same after the “Fight Of The Century.” Looking at his fights with “little” Terry Daniels and Ron Stander, one can’t help but wonder how Frazier went into the first Foreman fight as a 3-1 favorite. Stander, even rocked Frazier and was bulling him around somewhat in the early going, before Joe settled down and chopped him up in the fourth round. Regarding Ken Norton’s breakfast, what was Norton eating for three people? NINE EGGS, EIGHT PIECES OF TOAST? Damn, apparently gluten-free or watching carb intake wasn’t big back in the day.

  16. Clarence George 12:56pm, 07/05/2013

    A lovely job, Mike S., honoring one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, as well as a boyhood hero…hell, he’s still one of my heroes.

    I approve of Norton’s breakfast, which is remarkably similar to my own.  And I particularly approve of the dark-haired doxy.  What a filling she would make for palacsinta!

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