Joe Frazier’s Gym

By Norman Marcus on April 25, 2016
Joe Frazier’s Gym
Rocky was just a Philadelphia myth. But Joe Frazier was the real deal. (Getty Images)

Today there is finally talk of getting rid of the discount furniture store and turning the building back into Joe Frazier’s Gym…

On Broad Street near Glenwood Avenue stands a squat three-story building. Not many people notice it anymore. But inside that place, many sports legends had trained, sweated and dreamed of their futures. The names you would clearly recognize, Meldrick Taylor, Bernard Hopkins, Gypsy Joe Harris, Willie the Worm Monroe, the list just goes on… But one name stands out above all the others.

Carved into the concrete at the top of this building, in three-foot high letters, are the words “Joe Frazier’s Gym.” It now houses a “Furniture and Bedding Outlet.” The week’s special, written in soap on the window, offers a complete “Room Package $289.00 & Up.” The upper floors are empty now. Here were the private living quarters of the only heavyweight champion of the world to have come out of the “City of Brotherly Love.” Joe lived upstairs from his gym for twenty-three years. On the roof was an old battered sign for an auto body shop. On the sign was a huge picture of Frazier making a fist, with the caption, “He’ll Knockout the Dents!”

For those of us who remember “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, his résumé was hard to beat. Joe was an Olympic heavyweight gold medalist in 1964 and later world heavyweight champion. He fought professionally from 1965 to 1976. Joe’s boxing style can best be described as a “swarmer” in the ring. He can be compared to Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey or Henry Armstrong. His was an all-out relentless attack. Bobbing, weaving, boring in and looking to throw that famous left hook, which sent many opponents home early for the evening. Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Eddie Machen, Buster Mathis, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo and Jimmy Ellis paved Joe’s way to the title. They all fell to Frazier. These famous names all ring a bell with us, no pun intended.

On April 28, 1967, Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title, sentenced to five years in prison, and given a $10,000 fine. The reason was straightforward. He had refused to serve in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Here is the reason Ali refused to serve his country. He told his draft board, “The Vietnam War is a white man’s war, fought by the black man, against the yellow man, for a country ruled by the white man, stolen from the red man.” Can we all follow that thought?

On February 16, 1970 (by then Ali had relinquished his claim to the heavyweight title), Frazier won the world heavyweight championship at Madison Square Garden against Jimmy Ellis on a RTD4. Ellis’s trainer Angelo Dundee would not let him continue after two knockdowns by Frazier in round 4. Joe was officially recognized by the WBC, WBA and NYSAC.

The racist way Ali looked at the world didn’t sit well with Frazier. Joe was a good citizen, a good husband and father. He was also a deeply religious Baptist. He refused to call the former champion by his new Muslim name. Instead, Joe always referred to him by his given Christian name, Cassius Clay. Muhammed didn’t like that very much. He began to call Frazier an “Uncle Tom.” To be honest, these two men really didn’t like each other that much either. It was no prefight hype this time. Later Ali was seen in a newspaper photo shaking hands with Yasser Arafat. Arafat was the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a listed terrorist group. Ali was definitely a complicated character to say the least.

In 1971 Ali got his boxing license back. Frazier and Ali met for what was called “The Fight of the Century.” The heavyweight title was on the line. Ali wanted the belt back. Joe wasn’t in a giving mood. The Ali style was that of an “out boxer.” Like Gene Tunney, Billy Conn or Larry Holmes, Ali liked to keep a gap between himself and his opponent. He was very fast on his feet and relied on weaker jabs and straight hands rather than hooks and uppercuts. Joe beat Ali that night, retaining his WBC and WBA titles by a tough UD15.

Three years later the two men met for a rematch at Madison Square Garden, New York. It was January 28, 1974. The world title was not at stake. (Frazier had already lost his WBC, WBA belts to George Foreman at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 22, 1973 on a TKO2.) Just the NABF regional belt was on the table. Joe lost the bout on a UD12.

Ali later regained the world title. He beat the same George Foreman, October 30, 1974, in the Republic of the Congo on a KO8. The bout was called “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

The next year was the rubber match for Frazier and Ali. It was on October 1, 1975, at the Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines. The WBC and WBA world titles were on the line again. Frazier lost this last bout to Ali on a RTD14. This bout, called “The Thrilla in Manilla,” was stopped because of the heat and humidity, not from a punch. Both men were dehydrated, near exhaustion when the fight was called. Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch wouldn’t let Joe continue. Angelo Dundee stated he was also about to throw in the towel from Ali’s corner too. It was ranked the “1975 Fight of the Year” by The Ring Magazine.

On June 15, 1976 at Nassau Stadium, Uniondale, New York. Joe lost a second time to George Forman on a TKO5. He retired that night from the ring. 

Frazier then concentrated on his gym in North Philly, which he had bought in 1968. If you didn’t have the ten dollars for a training pass, Joe let you come back after closing, to work out for free. Frazier was never a good businessman.

Joe began to lose money on some real estate deals in suburban Philadelphia. He invested a lot and lost a lot. Soon all he had left was Joe Frazier’s Gym. The years went by and the real estate taxes on the building started to pile up. Joe’s health began to fail. The public had a short memory. Frazier was already yesterday’s news. Philadelphia City Council could have expunged the $60,000 tax bill by passing special legislation, as the U.S. Congress had done for Joe Louis. After all, Frazier was a Philadelphia icon. But they didn’t do it.

On a big wall just across the street from the gym, the city had painted a mural over some obscene graffiti scrawled there. Famous black figures now stared back at you, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Jim Brown, Malcolm X. Joe’s image was not there. He lived thirty feet from that wall and he wasn’t on it! Frazier had to see that wall every day. Not until he was long dead, did some people scrape the money together, to erect a statue to Frazier. Long after the city had placed Stallone’s Rocky statue at the steps of the Art Museum, they finally remembered Joe. Frazier’s 12-foot high statue now stands outside the Xfinity Live Complex in South Philly.

Ironically, Rocky was just a Philadelphia myth. Joe was the real deal. Yet Stallone’s Rocky character gets all the Philly glory. In reality it was Frazier, who worked at Cross Brother’s Slaughterhouse and used the hanging sides of beef as a heavy bag. It was Joe who used to run up the Art Museum steps every morning! Let’s tell the truth here.

Today there is finally talk of getting rid of the discount furniture store and turning the building back into Joe Frazier’s Gym. Perhaps running a neighborhood youth program out of there. The two top floors could be set up as a museum with Frazier’s memorabilia on display.

This rehab of Joe’s gym is long over due. All talk and no action by the politicians again. They should come out smokin’ for this fight. Just like Joe always did!

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  1. Jethro's Flute 09:55am, 05/09/2016

    Norm Marcus - your recollections of Manila are irrelevant.

    The simple fact is that Ali was landing punches while Frazier was in such a terrible state, he couldn’t have knocked my mum down.

    Since you can’t even stay on topic, I dismiss your post

  2. Jethro's Flute 09:53am, 05/09/2016

    Norm Marcus - you are lying.

    I know full well how hot and humid Manila was and still is but Ali did not need rescued.

    He was still beating the daylights out of a nearly blind Joe Frazier until the end of round 14.

    Frazier could barely hold his hands up.

    Why on earth would Dundee need to stop the fight?

    They myth-making is yours, not mine.

  3. bikermike 04:55pm, 04/29/2016

    Joe Frazier had two things ....

    First….a converted South paw….
    ...a natural lefty…and made his left hook and left jab ..or left hook to the body…kinda a mirage..

    NEXT…poor guy was blind in his left eye…and when his right eye was closed by his battle with ALI…he couldn’t see the man

    ..and when Frazier first accepted Ali’s challenge.,,,FRAZIER BEET HIM LIKE HE WAS HIS DADDY !!

  4. Your Name 04:48pm, 04/29/2016

    had Joe invested ten per cent of his purse…each and every time…and simply blown the rest….

    Joe would have easily had an assured income of some eighty thousands of dollars a year..clear.,,,,but Joe blew it all,,,

  5. Norm Marcus 04:48pm, 04/29/2016

    Biker Mike: yes we can agree that Joe Frazier was one of the select few great champions. I’ll go even further and call Joe a true American Icon. Forgotten by the fickle public. Only guys like us who study and love the sport remember the magic of that left hook!

  6. bikermike 04:44pm, 04/29/2016



  7. bikermike 04:20pm, 04/29/2016

    Norm Marcus..

    fellow ‘jumper’

    can we agree that ‘SMOKIN’ JOE’  was the most dangerous man on the planet…for his time….’
    made his bones on the way up..and lost it against ‘BIG GEORGE’ FOREMAN

    Smokin’ Joe was one tuf mofkr

  8. bikermike 04:01pm, 04/29/2016

    who could forget the movie….THE HARDER THEY FALL,,,an obvious chronology of Prima Cannarra.,,,,‘Da Preem !!

    baseball and basketball all shaved points…even football.,,,but Boxing was really corrupt….maybe still is

  9. bikermike 03:51pm, 04/29/2016

    Eric…..Holy shit….if any and every TV….radio…or cable….AND ..Gasp…online fight arrangement ....took place…...or maybe is already taking place

    more information instead of more hype

  10. bikermike 02:59pm, 04/29/2016


    Jumped out of a few perfectly operating air ships myself….
    All I’m saying is that Boxing has a very poor record of professional boxer’s after ring ..opportunities…

    As does baseball,….and tennis….to name just some.

    Too many boxers have wound up too broke to pay attention…..Look at Thomas Hearns…..Even hector Comacho..
    they blew their winnings..

  11. bikermike 02:44pm, 04/29/2016

    For a period of time…before..and during…and upon loss .....Of Joe Frazier’s Title of HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD….when Ali was ruled out for .,,,,reasons to be addressed , later.

    ....It was Joe Frazier…,,who was in the prime of his game….and HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD…who accepted Ali’s challenge…

    great fight ....Frazier won,,,,,,,‘nuff said

  12. bikermike 02:28pm, 04/29/2016

    Nobody , with a birth certificate ...that starts somewhere near 1943…...will ever view any heavyweight trilogy more regard….than with ALI….

    Ali Frazier…Ali Norton…Ali took a lot of blows.,,,from a lot of top fighters…Shavers…and he started to get old…..Ali vs Young…

    The rest is History…..

    Norman….love your work
    look forward to your next

  13. Norm Marcus 01:41pm, 04/29/2016

    Flute Man-One last time to you doubters:
    I was a Marine in Manila in the summer of 1969. The climate there is tropical rainforest, from May through November. Super hot and high humidity. My platoon used to run 5 miles in the dark at 5 AM, because it was too hot to run later in the day.. Salt tablets helped keep people from passing out.
    So unless you have been there, don’t call someone a liar!
    Siemper Fi

  14. peter 05:53pm, 04/27/2016

    Thank you for this article on Joe Frazier—one of my favorite fighters. Great as he was, he, and his vicious left hook, seem to have faded away. What a heart breaking observation Mr. Marcus makes about Joe Frazier not being included on that big wall across from Frazier’s gym. Very sad.

  15. Jethro's Flute 03:57pm, 04/27/2016

    More myths about the Manila fight.

    Ali was well ahead in the scoring and Frazier could not see by the end. Indeed, he could hardly hold his hands up.

    There is no way that Dundee would have rescued Ali and you are lying.

  16. bikemike 07:41pm, 04/26/2016

    ...and all of that…and all of that….

    Any well received production on boxing…is good for Boxing..
    ERIC….I formed a local amateur boxing club ....on the tails of ROCKY….\\very few youth problems locally , after that.

    I know about the stallone thing with chuck wepner…..but ..c’mon…Joe frazier had a lot of money .....Wepner never had a sniff of any money….
    If John WAYNE had to pay tribute to any Western figure captured in film…..he’d be so broke he couldn’t afford to pay attention

  17. bikermike 07:29pm, 04/26/2016

    ...all bullshit aside…hype etc..

    when Muhammid Ali signed for a fight…very few Insurance companies would demand a performance clause..with Ali….he was a professional…TOO MANY TIMES OVERWEIGHT…BUT ...ON TIME

  18. bikermike 07:22pm, 04/26/2016

    Gee…golly tlg…outside of over one hundred degree Fahrenheit ..with massive humidity issues….what did you think EDDIE FUTCH had in mind…when he said his man was done….and wouldn’t send him out

    ..Which was his and his alone to do ..that night

  19. bikermike 06:22pm, 04/26/2016

    ...After the Champion…..Joe Frazier…accepted the challenge of Muhammid ALI….
    ...keep in mind forces of evil had kept Ali from his trade for cupla years…bitter truth

    Frazier ..didn’t give a hot f*k ..just wanted to rock with Ali…

    NO MAN ALIVE COULD HAVE BEATEN FRAZIER .....THAT NIGHT !! quote a fine scribe of the day

  20. tlig 06:23am, 04/26/2016

    This author is funny. Why does he claim the third fight between Ali and Frazier was stopped because of heat and humidity?  Even Eddie Futch who called it off never once mentioned that as the reason.

  21. No10Count 09:22pm, 04/25/2016

    My TOP Heavy weight of all time.
    Why? Size - he was a cruiser weight. All action. No questionable juicing.

    I honestly don’t know why more boxers don’t emulate his style.
    Would give allot of heavy weights a better chance against the super heavy weights.

  22. Dennis Taylor 07:54pm, 04/25/2016

    Beautiful piece, Norman. Always enjoy your work.

  23. Eric 06:53pm, 04/25/2016

    Stallone “borrowed” material from several boxers. Wepner, Frazier, Foreman and of course Ali all were all part of the Rocky script. Foreman had married his own Adrienne in real life. You could even include Marciano, even though the real Rocky was never an underdog like Balboa. Actually I was always got the impression that Ali was one of the least “racist” people that I have ever heard speak, of course I have no idea what he might be like away from cameras. Ali was honest, but fair, and honesty doesn’t play well in a world ruled by lies and deceit. Always felt it was odd as hell, how the whole multiCULT crowd embraced Ali. Both Ali & Frazier were brave and honorable men in my book.

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