BrooklynFans Of Books: “Smokin’ Joe” On The Life Of A Boxing Legend

Smokin’ Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier

By Mark Kram, Jr.

Ecco; hardcover, 384 pages; $27.99; available today, June 4

Joe Frazier is one of the greatest boxers of all-time and most known for his rivalry with Muhammad Ali, which is what has been most documented about his illustrious career.

Mark Kram, Jr., a former senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News in Frazier’s hometown, changes the narrative with his new book Smokin’ Joe, a testament to an overlooked champion and an epic profile of a complex figure.

Kram was given unprecedented access to Frazier’s inner circle and to Joe himself to create this portrait of his amazing, complicated life. It is a journey that began as the youngest of thirteen children and packed in a small farm house, encountering the bigotry and oppression of the Jim Crow South, and continued when he headed north at the age of 15 to develop as a fighter in Philadelphia.

Kram then traces Frazier’s life through his momentous bouts with Ali and George Foreman, among others, and the developing perception that he was the anti-Ali in the eyes of blue-collar America. He follows Frazier through his retirement in 1981, exploring his relationship with his son, the would-be heavyweight Marvis, and his fragmented home life as well as the uneasy place that Ali continued to hold in his thoughts.

This propulsive and richly textured narrative is also a story about race and class in America, unparalleled in scope and depth, as well as access to this legendary fighter.

Kram writes here about Frazier’s fight with Jerry Quarry on June 17, 1974 at Madison Square Garden: “Odds dipped from 6-5 Frazier to even money with the arrival of fight night, clear indication that regardless of how Frazier had drubbed him in their prior meeting, the personable white heavyweight had a loyal following of fans who had warmed to reports of his reclamation. But Frazier was certain that the new Jerry Quarry would quickly revert to the old one as soon as he laid leather on him, and that is exactly what happened. Only in the first round and briefly in the second did Quarry try to box Joe as (his manager Gil) Clancy had instructed. From that point on, it was all Joe. Grinning as he advanced upon Quarry, he pounded him to the body and head, as Quarry began bleeding from a cut over his right eye. Frazier worked Quarry with both hands to the body in the third and stunned him with a solid right cross to the head. Clancy yelled, ‘Mooooove! Mooooove!’ Quarry stood as if his boxing shoes were encased in concrete while Frazier pummeled him again and again. Through the fourth round, Frazier continued to pour it on, backing Quarry into one set of ropes and then another. With thirty seconds remaining in the round, Frazier landed a double left hook to the head and chin, which appeared to freeze Jerry in midair before he caught himself from falling. Just before the bell, Frazier connected with a fierce left hook to the abdomen that caused Quarry to sink to the canvas. Quarry got up at the bell as the count reached five. With tears in her eyes, (his wife) Charlie left her seat and headed toward the dressing rooms.

“Standing over him before the fifth round, Clancy alternately scolded Quarry for ‘throwing the fight plan out the window’ and worked to close the cuts that had opened up over both eyes. Cleared to continue by New York State Athletic Commission physician Dr. Harry Kleiman, Quarry came for the fifth with his hands held high to protect his face. When Frazier drilled him with yet another unanswered right hand to the head, Quarry held up his gloves in apparent surrender, as blood began pouring harder now from the cut over his left eye. Frazier pointed to Quarry and told (referee) Joe Louis, ‘The man is cut bad. What are you going to do?’ But Louis looked at him blankly. Along press row, writers and others called out to the Brown Bomber, ‘Stop it, Joe! Stop the fight!’ Thinking that the action would be halted, Frazier turned back to his corner, but Louis ignored the cries to end the fight and signaled the two fighters to continue. Upon hearing (trainer Eddie) Futch yell, ‘Go back in there!’ Frazier caught Quarry with two left hooks that caused his body to shudder. Only then did Louis step in and stop it, at 1:37 of the round. In hos column the following day in the Los Angeles Times, Jim Murray waxed grimly, ‘It was a fight so brutal and atavistic [that] this dispatch should be filed in cave drawings.’

“Given up for a ghost of his old self only days before by the press, Frazier was full of new energy and resolve in his evisceration of Quarry. Clancy claimed he had never seen Frazier look better and predicted he would beat the winner of the Ali-Foreman bout scheduled for Kinshasa on October 30. ‘O ye of little faith,’ Futch told reporters with a big grin. As Frazier had said of (Joe) Bugner the year before, he had no desire to injure Quarry more than he had. Joe explained, ‘When it looked like the skin was ripping off his eye, I wanted it stopped. I have a warm feeling for Jerry.’ On his way out of the Garden, Frazier stopped in and said good-bye to Quarry, who had required a total of eighteen stitches – fifteen over the left eye, three over the right. ‘Stop by if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood,’ Frazier told him. With an ice bag affixed to the purple bruises that covered his face, Quarry told him, ‘You are a helluva man.'”

You will have the same thought about Frazier after reading Smokin’ Joe, a perfect gift for Father’s Day.

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