Joe and Marvis Frazier: A Package Deal

By Thad Moore on August 9, 2016
Joe and Marvis Frazier: A Package Deal
“I'd like to apologize about what I said. It was all about the publicity.” (Pete Marovich)

Marvis’ recollection of Ali-Frazier history contradicts actual events at least in part, as Joe publicly criticized Ali in the 1990’s…

As far as heavyweight champions go, Smokin’ Joe Frazier is unquestionably an all-time great. He fought in arguably the best era in the division’s history in winning the heavyweight title. Frazier defeated the likes of Buster Mathis, George Chuvalo, Oscar Bonavena, Bob Foster, Joe Bugner, and both Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis twice. However, he is most remembered for his three classic battles with Muhammad Ali.

Frazier personified the lunch pail, blue-collar Philadelphia town that he represented. He was a hard-charging, relentless battler who refused to take a step backward. In his prime, Frazier swarmed and outworked his opponents and would score often with his signature left hook.

Marvis Frazier has a unique perspective on his legendary father, one that only a son can have. Marvis spent his entire life growing up and feeling his dad’s presence as a disciplinarian, teacher, and best friend. Joe never let an opportunity go by when he didn’t share a life lesson with Marvis, which would often extend to the boxing ring.

“I clinged to my dad. My father was a good man. If I would get out of line or hit my sister Jacqueline in the stomach, he would teach me a lesson. He would tell me that I’m supposed to be the man of the house when you’re with your sister and be respectful.”

Joe was constantly imparting wisdom to Marvis in the form of using sayings. Marvis will be the first to point out that there is not a day that goes by that he does not reflect on his “Pops.” In fact, the elder Frazier would tell Marvis that he was going to either do right or he was not going to do right. As inspiration, Joe would hold up his left fist to Marvis’ face and it helped the younger Frazier to remember to do the right things. Another time Joe told Marvis, “There’s no right way to do wrong and no wrong way to do right.” For emphasis, the one-time heavyweight king would hit his son in the chest.

“We had 2½ acres and a push mower. My dad taught me that sometimes you are going to have to do things the hard way. He made me mow the lawn like that for years when we could’ve done it the easy way. One time when we were driving together, we picked someone up who was hitchhiking on the side of the road. I asked him why and he said, ‘You have to help people when they are in trouble.’”

“My dad would go to Atlantic City with some of us and play blackjack and win a bunch of money. He would give us all $100, no matter what, even if you shot all your money. Pop was always trying to show respect for people. He was always trying to help everyone out. He knew what it was like to have nothing.”

Marvis spent many years as a boxer, sparring partner, and trainer at his father’s world famous Joe Frazier’s Gym. The boxing education that fighters learned there was priceless. Marvis recalls an interesting story where a man from England would call Joe and tell him he was going to come and visit the gym.

“My dad would tell him that he would love to have him. I don’t know if he really thought he would ever show up. Believe it or not, he did. My dad told him that he’d be staying with us. This guy wasn’t a boxer, he was a painter. This man had so much respect for my father that he would come from England to train.”

“We had so many fighters train with us, even Sugar Ray Leonard. My father tried to help fighters be champions. He wanted the best for you. He tried to keep young boxers off of gangs and off the street. There are so many kids that came through the gym over the years, guys that we helped a lot. People wanted to follow my father.”

No interview would be complete without discussing the dynamic involving one of boxing’s greatest all-time rivalries. Marvis has the utmost respect for “The Greatest.” However, there was a rocky start to the Ali-Frazier story.

“In the beginning, it was rough. He was calling Pop an Uncle Tom and threatening the family. With Ali calling him names, it bothered Pop a little bit. Then there were people who thought that’s who my dad was. If you look at the first Ali-Frazier fight it was the best action fight ever. It was really ‘The Fight of The Century.’ Every single round had action in it. My dad gave the people what they wanted.”

“Then we realized Ali was talking to hype the fights. After the [Thrilla in Manila] fight in the dressing room, Ali said, ‘I’d like to apologize about what I said. It was all about the publicity. I’m sorry.’ They then hugged each other. They agreed to drop this. They said, ‘Let’s do the right things.’ I never forgot that.”

Marvis’ recollection of Ali-Frazier history contradicts actual events at least in part, as Joe publicly criticized Ali in the 1990’s. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta Frazier said, “It would have been a good thing if (Ali) would have lit the torch and fallen in. If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in.”

Marvis reflects on how important ring success was to Joe. Anything less and he felt he was a disappointment. The sport was also very difficult for Joe to give up as he needed some prodding from family members to understand that it was really over.

“When he lost to George Foreman (the second time), I went to the dressing room afterward. He said, ‘I’m sorry to let you down.’ I said, ‘You didn’t and I love you.’ He was always worried about us. After his last fight (against Floyd Cummings), we told him it was time to retire. I told him, ‘I don’t want you to get hurt.’ He can’t move anymore like the way he did in his prime. He was a proud champion and agreed it was time to go.”

Smokin’ Joe had a major impact on Marvis’ boxing career as his trainer and manager. Marvis had a very successful amateur career scoring victories over heavyweight champions Tim Witherspoon and Tony Tubbs, while also registering a win over contender Mitch “Blood” Green. Marvis was the National AAU heavyweight champion in 1980. He made it to the semifinals at the Olympic Trials before losing to James Broad while compiling an amateur record of 56-2.

After turning pro, Marvis got right to work and in his first 11 matches defeated journeyman Steve Zouski, a past his prime Joe Bugner, and an impressive unanimous decision conquest over James Broad. The Broad triumph was particularly special for Marvis as he avenged his amateur defeat at the Olympic Trials.

Marvis appeared to be on a path to fighting some top 20 heavyweights and gaining more experience at this level, when the decision was made to match him with heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Marvis discusses how this bout came to fruition.

“My trainers, George Benton and Sam Hickman said, ‘You’re not ready to fight Holmes.’ Sam felt strongly about this. I decided to go on what my father said. He thought I was ready. He took me on my amateur career to 56-2. I felt he knew best. When Larry knocked me down, the first thing that came to mind was that they were right, I wasn’t ready.”

“After Holmes knocked me down, I almost had tears in my eyes. I felt so bad for getting knocked down. I felt I blew it for the family. My dad wanted what was best for me.”

After Holmes defeated Frazier via first round stoppage, Marvis would go on to secure wins over cruiserweight champion Bernard Benton, James “Quick” Tillis, Jose Ribalta, and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. Joe then matched him up with the unbeaten “Iron Mike” Tyson. Many questioned the decision to agree to take this fight as Frazier appeared to be a sacrificial lamb for an entering his prime, indestructible Tyson.

“Before the fight was made, Sam didn’t want me to fight Tyson. He told me the same thing as he did before the Holmes fight. He said, ‘You’re not ready.’ But I knew Pops didn’t want anything bad to happen to me. As a warrior, you go in there and do what you can do. When Mike hit me, I was out.”

This first round knockout loss effectively ended Marvis’ career. He fought three more times, all wins, against mediocre opposition, and retired with a record of 19-2.

The bond between father and son cannot be questioned. Marvis’ admiration for his father is fully evident as he describes him with reverence to this day. During the course of our interview, Marvis would talk about how much his father meant to him, often unprovoked.

“I knew I had a good father. I miss him a whole lot every day. I loved him like every son would love their father. I know he loved me. I try to help others because that’s what my father did to keep hope alive.”

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  1. The Thresher 02:33pm, 08/09/2016

    One person’s perversion is another person’s gold.

  2. Eric 01:58pm, 08/09/2016

    The Thresher….Oops. Dat did sound somewhat “preverted.” Tanks for pointing that out to me. teehee. Didn’t mean for it to sound that way.

  3. The Thresher 12:27pm, 08/09/2016

    Eric , A Swedish mystery writer could do wonders with your last post

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:36am, 08/09/2016

    Or Dads that don’t know when to step aside and get someone who knows what they’re doing to guide their son’s careers….not later….not when he runs into trouble and a reset is needed but now! If ever there was a monster in the making in this sport it is David Benavidez….thirty total fights amateur and pro and his potential is off the charts….if someone will only teach him to jab with bad intentions and stay the hell off the ropes….his Dad surely hasn’t!

  5. Eric 11:30am, 08/09/2016

    Maybe Joe put Marvis in with Holmes and Tyson to teach him a lesson about bullying his sister. teehee. Hitting your sister in the stomach!? WTF? My sister could attack us with foreign objects and me and my brother better not lay a hand on her. I used to resort to holding her down and laughing while she threw her little tantrum, and it was quite rewarding. hehe.

  6. Lucas McCain 09:25am, 08/09/2016

    Marvis’s love and continuing devotion to his father are touching, and I’m sure Joe loved him too.  But love is a strange thing when it lets you put your boy in against guys like Holmes and Tyson, and Marvis is tactful enough not to dwell on that.  Fathers sometimes try too much to live through their sons, and I think a lot of people who cared for Marvis were shocked by Joe’s decisions.

  7. Eric 06:59am, 08/09/2016

    Using a push mower to mow 2 1/2 acres is indeed a JOB. Used to mow an acre with a push mower in hot, humid, Tampa, Fl, and would be totally drenched after finishing. No doubt that all that hard work down on the farm in muggy South Carolina would help build Papa Joe’s legendary strength and stamina in the ring. I thought I was in good shape from pumping weights, running and exercising, until I helped my friend bust up some of his rentals that he was renovating in Tampa. Try going into a cramped little house, no air conditioning or fan and swinging a sledgehammer. I pity anyone who has to do that work on a regular basis in Florida.

  8. Eric 06:00am, 08/09/2016

    Marvis should have fought at cruiserweight, he beat some good, large heavyweights like Broad, Bugner, and Bonecrusher, but he was probably a tad small to be fighting 220-230lb guys on a regular basis. However, he only lost to the very best, Holmes and Tyson would have given even Papa Frazier trouble, I say a prime Tyson even beats Joe. Back before Holyfield, Marvis would have certainly captured a cruiserweight belt. Marvin beat Benton and I’m pretty sure he would have beaten guys like Parkey, DeLeon, Camel, Crous, Ocasio, Murphy, etc. He would have possibly held the title until guys like Qawi, Cooper, and Holyfield came on the scene. I think Joe, along with Floyd Patterson and Marciano are the classiest guys to ever hold the title of heavyweight champion. All three fighters seemed like decent men, and Joe might have been the very best of them.

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