By Jacqueline Monahan
World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Frazier Honored at Lagasse’s Stadium at The Palazzo
Joe Frazier is still a contender. The former world heavyweight champion celebrated his 66th birthday at Lagasse’s Stadium amid a crowd of admirers on January 15 (his birthday’s actually the 12th). Frazier is the first honoree to be featured by the Stadium in a series of events aptly named, Legends of the Sport.
Frazier arrived, somewhat disconcertingly, in a wheelchair and made his way to a seat at the front of the Stadium with the aid of a cane. There he held court in front of a large 9X16 foot television screen, which ran a highlight reel of the acclaimed British documentary, “Thrilla in Manila” chronicling the three legendary Ali/Frazier heavyweight title bouts and the rivalry between the two champions.
After the viewing, Frazier conducted a brief Q&A on the sport of boxing, and blew out the candles on a large birthday cake. He graciously met with fans in front of a backdrop of boxing paraphernalia including two pairs of his autographed boxing shorts, framed still photos of the fighter in action (one face to face with Mohammad Ali) and a pair of red boxing gloves.
Frazier speaks slowly, deliberately, and with the kind of slurred pronunciation associated with boxers that had have long-term careers. There’s almost a hint of neurological damage in the delivery of speech affected by years of trauma to the head. Still, he has a quick smile and knows how to engage a crowd. Speaking of his loss to Ali during the rematch at Madison Square Garden, he quipped, “I didn’t get a chance to swing at him; he held me like one of the girls.”
In a black suit and cowboy hat, set off by a silver tie, the South Carolina native commented on a highlight reel of the film, which explores the history of the events leading up to each of the three fights and their varied outcomes. Frazier defended the title from Ali during the first fight, held at Madison Square Garden, and then lost it in a rematch a few years later. A third fight (in Manila) was stopped just before the 15th round, before the two men could pound each other into an early grave.
Even though Ali retained the title, he was reported in Sports Illustrated as saying, "I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me."
The Q& A netted responses to a few questions, namely if Frazier has a favorite fight (he doesn’t) and what he thinks of the sport of boxing today. He replied, “Back then, boxing was about the sport. Now it’s about love…of money.”
Your humble correspondent noticed one constant, though; Promoter Don King’s still around. You can see his tall, albeit darker, hairdo in the “Thrilla” documentary, along with Howard Cosell’s distinctive announcing style and Muhammad Ali’s larger-than-life persona; and of course, there’s Smokin’ Joe, so named for his alleged ability to make his boxing gloves smoke from the power of his punches (he possessed a devastating left hook).
Some facts about Frazier:
• Began pro boxing career 1958;
• Philadelphia Golden Gloves novice heavyweight title, 1962;
• Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, 1962, 1963, 1964;
• Olympic gold medal in boxing (Japan) 1964;
• Heavyweight champion, NY, MA, IL, ME, 1968;
• World Boxing Association, heavyweight champion, 1970-73;
• Inducted Boxing Hall of Fame, 1980;
• Became the first American Olympic heavyweight champion to also win the heavyweight title of the world;
• Held the highest knockout percentage in history when he was champion;
• Has been knocked down a few times, but has never been knocked out;
• Owner, member of the rock-blues group Smokin' Joe and the Knockouts;
• Owner of Smokin Joe's Corner restaurant;
• Owner, president, Joe Frazier & Sons Limousine Service;
• Owner, Joe Frazier's Gymnasium;
Smokin’ Joe Frazier left the Stadium as he had arrived, amid the fanfare of one who had achieved champion status; one who had fought with a legally blind left eye for years before he let it be known; one whose mouthpiece had been knocked out of his mouth, and one who’d gone directly to the hospital after a fight, but would never give up during one.
The man still packs a punch that can leave you shaking your head – in a good way. Like I said, Joe Frazier is still a contender.
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