The Brutal Separation of Man and Boy

By G.E. Simons on March 10, 2013
The Brutal Separation of Man and Boy
Eddie Futch wondered at Joe's decision to put Marvis into the ring against Larry Holmes.

At least the beaten Marvis remained standing, and there was definitely a sliver of pride in that when facing a prime Larry Holmes…

Eddie Futch and Joe Frazier are inextricably linked. Two men bonded by ribbons of blood drawn, tears of sweat cried, the euphoria of triumph earned and the threat of tragic theater avoided.

Smokin’ Joe first hired Futch in 1967 to help with preparations for a fight with George “Scrap Iron” Johnson. Following that victory, the pair devised a fighting style that fused a seeming perpetual motion with dogged tenacity and a commitment to violent infighting, that saw them embark on a 14-fight win streak across five years. 

The most notable victory in that period was of course the unanimous decision victory over 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali, under the blazing arc lights of Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Their 1971 encounter is often described as the “Fight of the Century” and it may well have been both from an athletic and cultural perspective. At the time, Ali very much represented a liberal, anti-establishment viewpoint that had incubated during his exile from the ring. Whilst Joe Frazier was seen to embody a more Republican, pro-war, no-nonsense strand of national opinion.

It certainly provided one of the most iconic moments in boxing history when the blistering loop of a scything Frazier left hook put Ali onto the seat of his blood red trunks and the flat of his toned back in the final round.

The rematch at the same venue three years later saw Ali win by the same margin which of course then set up the deciding contest from which neither man would ever really fully return.

The “Thrilla in Manila” provided a final deciding contest and although he won, Ali described it as the closest to dying that he had ever been. Eddie Futch refused to let Frazier come out for the 15th and final round, delivering victory to Ali who himself had collapsed from exhaustion in his own corner.

Futch had certainly seen the hurt business right up close in all its seething, teeming and visceral reality.

So a decade later, no one was better placed than he, as Larry Holmes’ incumbent trainer, to wonder at his old charge Joe Frazier’s kamikaze matchmaking in putting his own son Marvis into the ring with his formidable current charge for their 1983 contest at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Larry Holmes had been a professional fighter since 1973 and a victor over golden era warriors including Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers and the ghost of Ali. Holmes was the true linear heavyweight champion, who would carry the WBC belt through most of the 1980s including into the ring against Marvis although it wouldn’t be on the line that night.

Undefeated in 44 fights and closing in fast on Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten run of 49, Holmes was probably in his prime and was a fighter equipped with the kind of hand speed, power and lacerating left jab that would have given any opponent nightmares, not least a 10-fight comparative novice like Marvis Frazier.

Perhaps novice is a little unfair. Frazier had convincingly outworked the still pugnacious Joe Bugner in his previous outing and was an experienced and decorated amateur who, with Joe as a father, had grown up amongst the grit and fire of the tough-house Philadelphia gymnasium where the Frazier franchise was based.

Marvis entered the ring at 14st 4lbs, 23 years of age and undefeated, dressed in the legendary glittering gold and green trunks made famous by Joe in the memorable first clash with Muhammad Ali in New York. Joe as chief second was sartorially matching, perhaps reminding Holmes that he was facing at least the residue of boxing aristocracy.

Holmes himself looked relaxed and athletic at an even 15st 9lbs. Never a ripped fighter, he simply looked solid, strong and in his prime at 34, as he entered the ring undefeated in 44 bouts, with a chilling 31 by hard knockout.

Mills Lane was the man in charge of the action and legend has it that his “Let’s get it on!” motivation, following the touching of bright red gloves to get things started, was uttered here for the first time.

From the start Holmes took center ring as Frazier skittered around the older man, like mercury on a hot plate, winging the occasional left but looking nervy as his head was pawed at and Holmes’ vaunted left jab began to snap like a piston into the younger man’s face.

Around a minute into the round, a tangle mid-ring led to Holmes wrestling Frazier free with a push that sent him into the ropes like a boyish rag doll. This drew a scattering of jeers from the crowd but also proved like nothing else, that this truly was man against boy and pre-fight fears about Marvis being in deep water became floodingly prescient.

Holmes’ consistently nasty left jab continued to find its range as Frazier circled. A fractured couple of seconds where no punches were thrown allowed Holmes to shift his feet and measure a straight, rapier right hand that detonated on the point of the young man’s chin.

Frazier involuntarily skipped backwards and down, limbs boneless, leaving a temporary chalk outline of himself on the Las Vegas canvas. That he was able to rise, lurching like a trawler man in a gale, eyes goggling to focus on the blur of Caesar’s Palace, was a tribute to his undoubted heart. Never stopped as a professional, this was probably the time for that to happen but Mills Lane waved a continuation of the action.

Holmes, a vicious finisher, was on the carrion remains of Marvis instantly; landing several hard rights and lefts that backed him into his own corner. Joe Frazier gazed up from the ring apron, visibly wincing as the WBC heavyweight champion of the world hit his son hard, sending his spittle and mouthpiece spinning into the expensive ringside seats. Holmes, his left glove on the top of Marvis’ head to steady it, rained in punishing rights to the jaw but between each implored Lane to stop the massacre, winding his glove and punching whilst looking at the referee rather than his opponent. Mercifully it was stopped but perhaps five or six punches too late. At least the beaten Marvis remained standing, and there was definitely a sliver of pride in that when facing a prime Larry Holmes.

Talking to Ferdie Pacheo after the fight, Holmes said “The kid wasn’t ready, I’m just glad that I didn’t hurt him because I nearly did. He’s got a long way to go, save him for another day.”

For Marvis Frazier this was the beginning of the end in many ways, he went on to win fights against ageing gatekeepers like James “Bonecrusher” Smith, James Tillis and Jose Ribalta. They rebuilt his career to the point where if meeting a prime Holmes hadn’t been punishing enough, he then met the force of nature that was 1986’s Mike Tyson and suffered an even quicker first round annihilation. Three fights followed against club fighting men, all wins and Marvis retired with a professional record of 19-2 (8) having only lost to two of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time—when both were also at or near their greatest and most potent.

For Holmes, the plot thickened considerably. Cruelly denied usurping Marciano’s record unbeaten run of 49 in a hugely-controversial split decision loss to Michael Spinks in 1985, he continued to fight with mixed fortunes right up until 2002 with a freaky points victory over the vaudevillian Eric “Butterbean” Esch. Those 17 years proved mixed, with good wins over Ray Mercer and Ribalta. There was a crushing knockout defeat to Tyson in 1988 but other than that Holmes proved extremely hard to beat with only the likes of Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall squeaking out close points victories over the aging great.

Larry Holmes ended his boxing career with a phenomenal 69-6 (44 KOs) record saying, “I never tried to be a mercenary or a killer but a hard working fighter.”

Modest sentiment from a champion, who rightly straddles pugilistic history as a true Hall of Fame great, connecting Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson across decades where heavyweight boxing stopped the traffic, divided opinion and embroiled athletics with the cultural temperature of nations.

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  1. jpowerspotter 08:35am, 03/12/2013

    Good work.  A nice change from the many articles and online comments over the years claiming or implying that this fight proved Marvis Frazier was a bum.  Incidentally, there is a book about Marvis Frazier’s life coming out soon that covers, in depth, the Holmes fight and the effects it had on Marvis.  For more information about the book go to
    Thanks,    j powerspotter

  2. Jason 06:07am, 03/11/2013

    Beautiful. Such history.

    Liked the story. Always threw Frazier jr in the mix with guys like Jerry Quarry (I’m not saying jr was in Quarry’s league at all) in that they should have fought 10lbs lighter. Their careers would have been much different.

  3. the thresher 05:36am, 03/11/2013

    G.E, if I could write like you, I would!

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 04:50am, 03/11/2013

    G.E. Simons-S.E. Simmons? Sorry I’m having trouble focusing this morning!

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 04:46am, 03/11/2013

    S.E. Simmons-Classic…Shakespearean… other words scary good writing!

  6. the thresher 03:59am, 03/11/2013


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