“Livin’ and Lovin’”: A Life of Marvis Frazier
“Bottom line is that you got to love people,” says Marvis. “God put us here to be brothers and sisters. Pop knew that…”
Marvis Frazier’s father gave him the ultimate gift anyone could give another person, he believed in him. Until the day he passed, Smokin’ Joe trusted, believed in, and supported Marvis.
“My father always showed me love,” says Marvis. “When I lost, he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, son.’ I wish that every son had a father like him. He was a great, great guy. He loved everybody.”
Marvis is not reluctant saying that no person he has ever met has been his father’s equal. And why would he be? Proudly, he recalls numerous examples of Joe’s kindness and brotherliness.
“When he would see someone lost or broken down when we were driving down the street, he’d say pullover. If I questioned him, he’d say, ‘Wasn’t God there for you when you needed a ride?’”
Grateful of the benefits commensurate with becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion, Joe often tried to give young directionless kids a fresh rebirth in the boxing ring. He would buy them groceries, offer lessons of encouragement, and even allow some of them to board above the boxing gym where he trained.
“He liked to treat everybody right,” says Marvis, 52. “He believed in giving kids an opportunity, giving somebody a chance. They believed they could be a world champion, and he wanted to help them. He was always trying to give somebody a chance. Bottom line is that you got to love people. God put us here to be brothers and sisters. Pop knew that.”
Growing up with a parent who was one of the most recognizable sporting figures in America carried its own unique set of circumstances. Having to deal with Joe’s substantial presence has been a way of life for Marvis.
“I can remember being at Disney World this one time,” says Marvis. “Everybody and their sister wanted an autograph, and there were lines from here to the moon. We just wanted to be with our father. The last little kid in line, I told him he couldn’t have an autograph. I was frustrated. Dad made me go back and get him. He said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again. They are paying for your daddy. That’s the reason you are here, son.’”
Born September 10, 1960, Joe and Florence’s first child didn’t initially plan to set out on a path to emulate his father. Searching for a physical outlet, Marvis began boxing in the 10th grade at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. He was soon working out at a gym in Philadelphia and Joe eagerly provided Marvis with a pair of trainers.
“My father did it, and he was good at it. We looked at boxing as a blessing to the family. It seemed to be a fun thing to do, if you love it, you do it, and enjoy it. I loved it when I was 56-2 as an amateur, as a pro 19-2, I loved it, too.”
As a top-ranked amateur, Marvis tallied victories over future heavyweight champions “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. Indeed, Marvis prospered, losing only two fights, to Tony Tubbs, and a knockout loss to James Broad, which ended his 1980 Olympic aspirations.
Marvis turned pro in September 1980, and avenged his lost to James Broad in his ninth professional fight, via 10-round decision, in April 1983.
“Broad wasn’t going to beat me again,” says Marvis. “That was the best moment I ever had in my boxing career. After he fought me, he went down in a spiral, and I felt bad about that.”
In Marvis’s next bout, June 6, 1983, he earned a 10-round decision over capable Hungarian-born Joe Bugner, whom Joe Frazier took a narrow, hard-fought 12-round decision from in 1973, in London.
“Bugner was so tough,” says Marvis. “I really wanted to knock him out. I was hitting him with everything I had, uppercuts, lefts, rights, he wouldn’t fall. I know he felt it.”
Waiting in the wings was a showdown with the unblemished Larry Holmes, strong, cocky, with an imposing 44-0 mark. The November 25, 1983, Las Vegas, Nevada, headliner didn’t last long. At slightly more than 6’1” and 201 pounds, Marvis was well-built, but he was grossly overmatched in technique and experience against Holmes. Marvis hadn’t become proficient at the art of cutting off the ring, either. With just a few seconds remaining in the first, with Holmes cherry-picking a slew of punches, the referee intervened on Marvis’s behalf.
“I really didn’t know a lot about Holmes at that time,” says Marvis. “I really thought I was ready. But the feeling wasn’t there. I didn’t worry about the [perfect] record. I thought going in that I could win.”
Some in the press were critical of Joe Frazier for pushing his son into the fight and for altering his protégé’s fighting style from that of a technician to more of brawler. Paradoxically, others accused Joe of coddling Marvis too much. Everyone had an opinion.
“Truthfully,” says Marvis. “He always let me do what I wanted to do. Even after the fight, he told me that you can’t cry over apples. It was what it was. I may have rushed myself. But I had the attitude that said, ‘Hey, I’ll fight anybody, pop.’”
After the Holmes loss, Marvis says he began to have doubts about whether he wanted to fight any longer.
“Something didn’t feel right,” says Marvis. “I kept thinking that the winning feeling would come back, but God was talking to me, I wasn’t listening.”
Trudging ahead, Marvis put together a string of six victories, including decisions over James “Quick” Tillis and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. These successes placed him in line for an inevitable showdown with a 24-0 young cyclone named Mike Tyson. The July 26, 1986, fight lasted less than thirty seconds. Like a demon possessed, Tyson attacked as expected. Chalk it up to the stupor of warfare, but Marvis remembers little about the bout.
Three fights later, Marvis called it quits.
These days, nothing is as important to Marvis as reaching out to the younger generation and using God as a guide to show them the way to a better, cleaner life.
“We are all related to Adam and Eve, and all God’s children,” says Marvis. “We are all connected. God can work things out at the right time. I reach out to younger kids, talk to them if they are willing to listen. I try inspiring in them the fact that they can do anything. I try to keep them straight and right, how my dad kept me straight and right.”
“We have a generation out there raised with only one parent,” continues Marvis. “The Lord made us to have two; you need a mom and a dad.”
An ordained minister, Marvis also provides counsel to prison inmates and former inmates. He is his own man, a man of value, of character, someone who takes pride in offering himself for the good of others. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he has faced the prospects of unemployment for more than a year. He had been earning approximately $20 per hour working at a security company, but after he had his salary arbitrarily chopped in half, he resigned.
“I’m learning that the best place is where you can get a job,” says Marvis. “I’m willing to do anything, clean floors, toilets, tables. I can’t be picky. God has a plan for me, and all I have to do is follow him. If God took me tomorrow, that’s okay. I’ve had a good life and I want to be a blessing to somebody.”
Marvis Frazier’s life has always revolved around the core connectedness of faith, fighting, and family. Sister, Jackie Frazier-Lyde, now a municipal judge in Philadelphia, and brother, Joe Frazier Jr., both boxed professionally. In 2001, Marvis lost his beloved wife to liver cancer, and took to raising their two young daughters the best way he knew how. Joe Frazier passed on November 7, 2011. Marvis endured these hardships with a strong sense of optimism entrenched in the trust of a compassionate God.
“As long as we have Christ, we can make it. He will do stuff that boggles your mind. We all have lumps and bumps. But if you keep your trust in God, he’ll bring you through with flying colors. Keep Christ first, you’ll make it. He keeps me livin’ and lovin’.”