Joseph William Frazier, son of a sharecropper, came north from South Carolina to seek fame and fortune, and when he landed in Philadelphia, thought that it felt right.
And he was right. And he became Smokin' Joe Frazier, in a time and a city where boxing was doted on, a fortuitous confluence of right circumstance and right man.
Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s was famous for its savage gym wars - if a man could survive in those sweat-streaked dark and dingy caves, then the squared circle in the outside world was ripe for the plucking. The sharecropper's son and his rib-cracking left hook won an Olympic gold medal in 1964 and then presented to his adopted home the heavyweight championship of the world. Philadelphia, in turn, enfolded him in a sweaty embrace and treated him like one of its own.
He was forever after "Champ," just as once you're President you're forever "Mr. President." Powerful psychic income, indeed.
He loved that role and played it to the hilt. Before a big fight they would introduce the pugilists in the audience and they would climb through the ropes, the once-were's and the almost-were's and the never-were's, and Frazier would be saved for last and the ovations would be thunderclaps. Smokin' Joe would take his bows and after a time you couldn't help but notice how his gait in these victory laps seemed to be increasingly unsteady. His speech thickened and slurred.
And why not? You climb those three steps that lead to the ring, the best you can hope for is to be able to remember your name when it's over. They loved him in this town because he was heart beyond all else. But that style invited wreckage, and you reckon he aged 20 years that night in Jamaica when he fought George Foreman and went down six times in less than two rounds, literally lifted off the canvas by those sledgehammer fists.
For all the punishment he dealt, he took twice as much, probably more. Nowhere was that more starkly evident than in the epic trilogy of Smokin' Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali. It lives on even now, summed up in Ali's whispered postscript after the Thrilla in Manila: "Closest I've come to death."
Frazier hated him, and made no secret of it. Nor did the years soften his smoldering resentment, even though they were, and are, linked by those three fights. But Smokin' Joe found Ali and his verbal barbs cruel and vicious beyond the usual prefight histrionics, much too personal and hurtful.
He tried coming back. Twice. The results were sadly predictable. Age and ring rust make for an inevitable one-two. All athletes struggle with letting go, but fighters in particular have problems not only with retiring but with staying retired.
There is a saying that the only thing square in boxing is the ring. And it is a profession awash in poverty and greed and larceny, with no grand retirement programs, only the peck-peck-peck of the carrion eaters gorging themselves, getting what they can before their meal is gone, before the tax man comes to rummage through the bones.
"I always need money," Smokin' Joe said. "I got to have lots of money so I can party."
On the side, he sold memorabilia out of the trunk of his car; ran a limo service and a gym, with mixed results; had an abbreviated singing career; indulged a taste for gambling; and put up a website, featuring a large photograph of Joe Frazier delivering a mule-kick punch to the concussed and distorted jaw of, who else, one Muhammad Ali.
Smokin' Joe also sired children, two of whom tried dutifully - oh, how they tried - to make Pops proud and follow him into the ring: A daughter, Jacqui, who came along at a time when women in boxing was new, and a son, Marvis, who was 19-2 as a professional pugilist, those two defeats shattering first-round knockouts.
Marvis, wisely, retreated from the ring and settled for a career as an evangelist, and in so doing made his Pops proud. Asked by an interviewer once what it had felt like to be standing in the ring next to Smokin' Joe Frazier, the Smokin' Joe Frazier, the son had said:
"I always thought of it as standing in a great light."
Could a father wish for more?