Boxing great Joe Frazier in serious condition with liver cancer

Joe Frazier, a longtime Philadelphia resident, won an Olympic gold medal and was heavyweight champion of the world.
Joe Frazier, a longtime Philadelphia resident, won an Olympic gold medal and was heavyweight champion of the world. (Associated Press, File)
Posted: November 06, 2011

During his boxing career, Leslie Wolff said, Joe Frazier never stopped fighting.

And Wolff said he has no reason to think he'll stop now.

On Saturday afternoon, it was confirmed that the former heavyweight champion and Philadelphia boxing icon was in serious condition with liver cancer.

"We're looking for some miracles," said Wolff, Frazier's business manager. "When you're dealing with the Big C, it's not an easy thing to deal with."

The disease was diagnosed a month ago, and the 67-year-old Frazier is in hospice care in Philadelphia. He was living in a Center City apartment complex.

"He's under medical care, getting his treatments that hopefully will help," said Wolff. "It's extremely serious - I'm asking everyone to pray for him."

In a career that lasted almost 20 years, Frazier compiled a 32-4-1 record. He won two heavyweight titles, while facing off against the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Oscar Bonavena, and Jerry Quarry.

He's best known for his three bouts with Ali during the 1970s.

Frazier won their first meeting in 1971 at Madison Square Garden by decision. It was billed as "The Fight of the Century" and an estimated 300 million people worldwide tuned into the fight via closed-circuit television.

"The Vietnam War stopped for several hours so the military could listen," said Wolff. "Troubles between the Protestants and Catholics in Belfast stopped so the Irish could see it. This man is an important figure in history."

Ali and Frazier went on to fight twice more: again at the Garden and later in the Philippines in the "Thrilla in Manila," with Frazier losing both.

A native of South Carolina, Frazier moved to New York City as a teen, and then to Philadelphia. He started his career by rattling off 29 straight wins before losing his heavyweight title and undefeated record in 1973 to Foreman by knockout.

More then just a ferocious puncher, Frazier was a humble man, said longtime friend and Philadelphia boxing promoter Joe Hand Sr.

Hand grew close with Frazier after the boxer returned from winning a gold medal as a heavyweight at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

A former Philadelpia police officer, Hand had bought a share of stock in Cloverlay Inc., a group formed by local businessmen to help propel Frazier's career. Now the owner of the world's largest distributor of closed-circuit boxing matches, Hand said he owes the whole thing to Frazier.

"If it wasn't for Joe Frazier, I'd probably be a retired policeman sitting in Wildwood someplace," Hand said. "I owe it all to Joe.

Wolff recalled Frazier as being an athlete who didn't have an ego.

If he was scheduled for an autograph signing for one hour, he'd stay for five. When fans would rush toward Frazier, he'd tell his handlers to let them be.

"He didn't have an ego, he didn't think he was better than anyone else," Wolff said. "He just thought he worked hard, and in my mind he's one of the finest role models I had ever seen."

In the ring, Frazier was as tough as any. Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield said Frazier was someone he looked up to as he idolized what he called "the Joe Frazier style."

"He would put that relentless pressure on guys," Holyfield said. "He wouldn't give up and he was able to take your shot and put something on you."

Promoting Frazier was an easy task. Bill Caplan, who promoted Frazier's 1976 rematch with Foreman, said the fighter was up for anything.

To coincide with the Bicentennial, Caplan had asked Frazier to wear a Ben Franklin costume for a television spot. Not a problem.

"Whatever we wanted to do - within reason - he would do it," Caplan said. "I just remember shooting the commercials and he was a lot of fun to work with."


Contact staff writer Matt Breen

at mbreen@phillynews.com or @Matt_Breen on Twitter.

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