08 November 2011

Smokin' Joe Frazier has died of liver cancer aged 67. I remember The Thrilla In Manilla very well, we watched it at the Olympic in Los Angeles in Aileen Eaton's suite.

We were in the Ali camp, himself having used my dad's boxing gym down in Long Beach to train when the crowds in LA got too big around the gym he used there. He also had a very nice training camp that Angelo Dundee built for him, but he liked the Skid Row atmosphere of Seaside Gym where my dad put hundreds of 'troubled youth' through the boxing programme he ran for the County of Los Angeles.

One of these days Ali (whom I've always thought of as Cassius Clay, and always will-it's not meant in disrespect, but because I met him when he was Cassius Clay and it was hard to remember to call him Muhammad) will pass too, and I will post a blog about him teaching me to skip rope like a 'real boxer', and his admiration of my speed bag skills.

Mr. Frazier was an amazing man, very gentlemanly, very reserved, very determined. I expect he faced his illness with the same reserve and determination, and I am beyond sorry that he lost this fight. It doesn't seem right that this quiet man is gone so young (at 55, trust me, 67 is young), and that he had to endure the horrors of liver cancer before leaving too soon. I heard about the cancer just a few days ago when his agent announced it-I have no contacts left from those days, no one to reminisce with about the days of the boxing gym, and the people we knew back in the day.

I feel sure though, that Smokin' Joe was met at the Gate by people who respected him, and like him, went on too early. I have a feeling my Pop was there to say hello, he very much admired and respected Joe Frazier for all we were officially in the Ali camp. And I'm positive that Mike and Jerry Quarry were on the 'We went too young, didn't we' welcoming committee for Smokin' Joe, among other boxing greats who died far too young, and primarily as a consequence of their boxing days.

Both Mike and Jerry died from complications of the horrendous repeated concussions suffered in the ring, it's the biggest reasons my dad got out of boxing when he realised Jerry had a serious problem. Pop said one afternoon while we were driving home to Laguna from the Long Beach gym, 'The lights are on but there's no-one home. Jerry is not in there anymore, and it's time to get out of this.' It disturbed my dad to see what was happening to Jerry, and he saw the beginning glimmers of the same thing happening to Mike, and that shattered my dad-he really liked Mike and didn't want to see that happen to either brother.

I don't know if Joe Frazier's liver cancer developed because of his boxing, I doubt it. He wasn't the steroids or other 'aids' type. I remember him as the kind of boxer who went about it honestly-shoulders set, chin tucked, and throwing a Smoking Jab that rocked your world in a very bad way if you were on the receiving end. I heard a rumour that he routinely snapped heavy bag drop chains while training. Dunno if it's true, just that he earned his nickname because he threw his punches so fast and hard. I seem to recall he was called Joltin' Joe for a while, in the early days of his boxing career for the same reason-if he hit you, you were beyond jolted.

God rest you, Mr Frazier. Say hi to Mike and Jerry for me, will you?

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