Keywords: Black History Month
Died: Nov. 7, 2011
Background/significance: Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Frazier was one of the best heavyweight boxers in history. He was a Golden Gloves champion, 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist and undisputed World Heavyweight Champion from February 1970 to January 1973.
He beat Muhammad Ali in "The Fight of the Century" and lost to Ali in the "Thrilla in Manila," the third and final bout between the two rivals and one of the most storied matches in the sport’s history.
He fought in some of the most exciting, important and memorable boxing matches in history. He is considered one of boxing’s 10 greatest heavyweight champions ever and is in the International and World boxing halls of fame.
Frazier grew up in a Gullah community in the South Carolina Lowcountry. He dropped out of school when he was 13 years old and went to work. At 15, he boarded a Greyhound bus and went to New York to live with his brother.
He soon moved to Philadelphia and got a job in a slaughterhouse, where he practiced his punches on sides of meat. He rose to prominence quickly after joining a gym and learning to box properly for the first time, first as an amateur. He turned pro in 1965 after winning an Olympic gold medal in Japan. His career spanned from 1962 to 1975.
Famous for his left hook and his feud with Ali, Frazier fought some of the greatest heavyweight boxers of the 20th century, including George Foreman, to whom he lost his world championship title in 1973. After his retirement in 1975, he became a trainer and manager of young boxers (including some of his 11 children) in his beloved adopted hometown of Philadelphia. He died there on Nov. 7, 2011, of liver cancer.
South Carolina connection: Frazier grew up in Laurel Bay, a rural Gullah community outside of Beaufort. He was the youngest of 12 children, and his parents were sharecroppers.
In the early 1950s, his family bought a black-and-white television set. Young Joe watched boxing matches on TV and decided that he would become a boxer one day. He hung a heavy, homemade burlap sack stuffed with Spanish moss and bricks from an oak tree and wrapped his father's ties around his hands to practice punching it.
Frazier often visited family and friends in the Beaufort area and remained proud of his heritage. He received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian award, in 201o.