[Editor’s Note:* The boxing world mourns a legend today upon hearing of the passing of ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The former Olympic and Undisputed Heavyweight Champion became a household name in the late 60’s, quickly rising through boxing’s ranks to claim the sports greatest prize. He will perhaps be best remembered for his storied title defense at Madison Square Garden in what was dubbed the Fight of the Century where he beat Muhammad Ali on points in the first of their three meetings.*
Appearing in the March 1973 issue of Playboy, ‘Smokin’ Joe offered insight into the mind of a champ, reflecting extensively on his relationship and fight with Ali, the state of religion and government in America and the growing impact of his legacy. The following is the interview in full]
“He is going to make a lot of money, he is going to be the champion for a long time and he is a mean guy to tangle with.” Those were some of the conclusions reached by boxer-astrologer Henry Hank when he studied Joe Frazier’s horoscope in the June 1970 issue of The Ring. It seems to be the age of Capricorn among heavyweight boxers, for the goat is not only the world champion’s sign but also that of exchamp Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. Cassius Clay, who lost a 15-round title fight to Frazier nine months after Hank’s prediction—but remains the most formidable contender for Joe’s title. Hank noted that the horoscopes of Frazier and Ali contain “many startling similarities.” Since he won the championship, however, Frazier has been a relatively invisible celebrity, while Ali has been flamboyantly conspicuous, as always, fighting frequently and taking every occasion to complain about Frazier’s inactivity, to protest that he’s really the uncrowned champ and to demand purses equal to the sizable ones commanded by his archrival.
Joe Frazier may be in the money now, but he started out dirt poor. The youngest of seven sons in a family of 12, he worked in the fields alongside his brothers, picking the vegetables grown by the wealthy white landowners of Beaufort, South Carolina. Joe’s father, to whom he was very close, had lost an arm in a car accident shortly before Joe was born; he died of cancer in 1965. Joe’s mother, Dolly, is still going strong. Tube watchers may recall the cigar commercial in which she tells her famous son not to get ashes on the rug; that would be one of the rugs in the 200-year-old plantation that Joe, a family man all the way, recently bought for her.
A high school dropout—he got as far as the tenth grade—Frazier married when he was 15 and migrated north. After a brief stay in New York, he moved to Philadelphia, where he found work in a slaughterhouse. It was in order to lose weight that Joe worked out at a Police Athletic League gym, where he was soon spotted by Yancey Durham, a veteran fight trainer who noticed that the solidly built youngster could throw a hell of a punch—and take one, too. So Frazier entered the ring wars. His amateur career reached its climax when he won the gold medal in heavyweight competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Joe had some luck along the way; he was outpointed by Buster Mathis in the Olympic trials, but Mathis broke his thumb, allowing Frazier to go to Japan. He returned to Philadelphia—and a bleak Christmas, after which he turned pro. Without a manager—he and Durham were setting up the bouts themselves—Joe started winning handily against so-so opposition. Then a group of Philadelphia businessmen formed a corporation, called Cloverlay, to guide his career.
Displaying courage, a strong jaw, good punching and a nonstop attack that gave his adversaries little time to think or room to maneuver, “smokin'” is his term for this style—Frazier made rapid progress. When Ali was stripped of his crown, the World Boxing Association collaborated with a TV network in sponsoring a series of elimination bouts to produce a new champion. Frazier refused to enter the tournament, but eventually he was matched with its winner, Jimmy Ellis. On February 16, 1970, in Madison Square Garden, he knocked out Ellis in the fifth round to achieve widespread recognition as the champ. Quite a few people, however, still considered Muhammad Ali—who had yet to be beaten in the ring—the legitimate titleholder. Ali eventually returned to boxing and, in March 1971, came up against Frazier in an unprecedented meeting of two undefeated heavyweight champions. (Also unprecedented were the guarantees of $2,500,000 that were made to each fighter, and the astronomical gross of the match, which was broadcast world-wide on TV.) A description of the fight that Frazier probably likes appeared in The Ring: “Frazier was as determined a man…that night as any champion has ever been against an important foe. He was relentless. He was desperate. He was magnificent.”
Not everyone, however, was ready to give Frazier credit for his victory.
Rolling Stone, for instance, ran a review of the fight titled “Still and All, Muhammad Won.” Then there was Frazier’s stay in a hospital after the fight, for mysterious reasons; his 10-month absence from the ring; and his subsequent victories over low-rated Terry Daniels and Ron Stander. Ali’s partisans criticized Frazier not only for failing to defend the crown more often but on political grounds; if Ali represented black militancy and the antiwar movement, they reasoned, then Frazier had to be cast as a symbol of reaction. Boxing Illustrated recently published a story by Bryant C. Gumbel, the editor of Black Sports, that was titled: “Is Joe Frazier a White Champion in a Black Skin?”
To find out the answer to that question and many more, Playboy sent Associate Editor Carl Snyder—a longtime fight fan who admits that he won five dollars when Frazier beat Ali (but, he says, “I never heard the end of it”)—to interview the champ in Philadelphia. Following is his account of what happened:
“I arrived at Joe’s headquarters, in an old three-story building across from the North Philadelphia train station, around 7:30 a.m. Inside was a small but cavernous gym, with a ring to one side. Some stairs in the back led to Joe’s office, his ‘playroom’ (containing record players, tape machines and the like) and dressing room. All were sumptuously furnished, with—among other things—rich carpeting, peacock feathers in a vase, photos of the musical revue Joe produced and sometimes performs with (as lead singer of a band called the Pazant Brothers with the Beaufort Express), and such memorabilia as the key to the city of Akron, trophies, plaques and a Sports Illustrated cover showing Joe’s 15th-round knockdown of Ali, with the caption, ‘End of the Ali Legend.’
"Frazier arrived about 11:30 a.m., entering the gym on the run and hollering (that’s customary; sometimes he comes in singing). He was wearing a brown leather coat, three-colored shoes, motorcycle helmet and goggles. After a few moments of shadowboxing and some hasty words with associates, Joe went outside to do a TV spot with a local camera crew. They filmed him going around the block on his Harley—it was the coldest day of the year in Philadelphia—then did a short interview. When he came back in, he went into the playroom and, with the help of his secretary and a battery of plug-in phones, took care of business: a call to Cloverlay and some expense accounting for a trip he’d taken to do a ‘Dick Cavett Show’ appearance and a Mennen commercial. In two days, Frazier would be flying to Detroit to pick up a new Cadillac that had been prepared according to his specifications and, three days after that, he’d be making a junket to Jamaica to take the physical and get the license that would enable him to box George Foreman there on January 22. (The match was signed just after our interview was completed, and would be fought after this issue went to press.)
"After the phone calls, he tried on—and rejected—some new headgear. Joe designed his own ring shoes, which are two inches higher than the usual variety, and give him more support; he also designed his ring outfits, including a green robe bearing the names of his five children on the back. Finally, Joe got ready for the day’s training. He taped his own hands, biting off the adhesive, then trotted out to the gym. Joe hadn’t begun sparring yet, so the session started with some shadowboxing in front of a mirror, accompanied by guttural exhalations. Then the heavy bag, with Joe doubling up on his hooks, tossing a few five-punch combinations and ducking as if the bag were an active opponent.
"The light bag followed; and whenever Joe slammed it hard, the floor shook. These exercises were in three-minute segments, simulating rounds, with Lee, who runs the gym, holding the watch: ‘You got one…got a half…15…10…five…time!’ And Joe would end each ‘round’ with a flurry of punches that, it seemed to a nonathlete, no human could survive. Finished with the bags, Joe lay on a table and did 20 sit-ups. Then Lee took a 15-pound medicine ball and slammed it repeatedly into Joe’s stomach and sides. The session concluded with rope skipping—Joe on his toes, hands down by his hips, wrist-flicking the rope over his head.
"Our conversations began after the training session, as Joe sat naked in his dressing room. Soon he dressed and—giving an interview to a local sportswriter on the way—drove his Mark IV to a travel agency (arrangements for the Jamaica trip), then to the office of his lawyer, Bruce Wright, where I listened for an hour as they discussed a business venture they were considering: purchase of 139 acres of land in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on which to build a ‘planned residential development’ that would provide Joe with a tax shelter.
"We arranged for Joe to come over and talk the next morning at my motel, where there’d be fewer distractions. He arrived a bit late, signaling his presence by pounding on the door and yelling, ‘Open up or somethin’ gon' happen!‘ Later in the day, after Joe had split, I went back to the gym, where—after matching him sew a button onto his purple overcoat—I witnessed a training session similar to the one on the previous day, except that this time an American girl working for some German newspaper was taking pictures. The table routine afterward left Joe with a splinter in his rear end, and back in the dressing room, Lee refused to pull it out; Tyrone, his nephew, didn’t want to either, but Joe finally browbeat him into doing it—which he did with trepidation. When they were out of earshot, Joe mumbled something about 'them faggots.’
"The afternoon was spent in the playroom, with Joe listening to tapes—Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, a mostly unknown young songwriter named Milt Matthews and Joe’s own revue, which featured Vivian Reed (now the star of the musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope). Joe sang along, danced and pointed out a few mistakes in the show. The next morning, we talked again at the motel and when Joe left—after urging me to catch him again sometime—there was more soul music coming from the large portable radio he carried.
"Working with Frazier was a pleasure, though it’s recommended only for the patient reporter. Joe is a very down-to-earth, straightforward and considerate guy, with a good sense of humor, except for certain moments when he seems strangely withdrawn and preoccupied. He’s also very much the champ; the people who work for him call him ‘the boss,’ and not without reason. For other descriptive phrases, we could do worse than go back to Henry Hank’s astrological readings, according to which Joe is ‘loyal…peevish, restless, careful with his money…tactful, diplomatic and curious…lighthearted…good in investing, good in producing income…susceptible to the opposite sex…has compassion, a musical bent, and a love for science, the movies and magic.’ I don’t know about science, but the rest of it sounds like Joe.”
PLAYBOY: Do you enjoy your work?FRAZIER: I love it. Anybody who participates in boxin' loves it. It’s a sport in which things speak for themselves. You either have it or you don’t have it.
PLAYBOY: Does it bother you that you have to hurt the other guy in the ring?FRAZIER: Not at all. I don’t want to hurt a man fatally, but it don’t bother me at all to tap him on his chin. It’s just like takin' an ax and cuttin' down a tree. Matter of fact, I get a thrill out of seein' a man fall from my punch. I don’t really want to hurt him, though—just stop him for the 10 count.
PLAYBOY: What was the worst you ever busted anyone up?FRAZIER: Oh, I’ve broken a couple jaws, cracked a few ribs and stuff, and I’ve caused people to have stitches around their eyes. But I think the Good Man will forgive me for that, because it’s my livin', and these guys have the same chance that I do to be in the best of condition. It’s like a self-defense thing—he comes at me, and I’m comin' at him.
PLAYBOY: Can you take punishment as well as you can dish it out?FRAZIER: I don’t really feel any punches, man. I may feel shook sometimes, but it’s not pain. When you’re hit with a punch, it’s not an achin' kind of thing, unless a guy cracked your jaw—and I don’t think you’d really feel that. Maybe if a guy busted up your ribs, you might feel that, if your lung was punctured or somethin'. But a puffed-up eye, or a sprained knuckle—I don’t feel things like that. My mind is so much on winnin', I don’t have the time to think about pain.
PLAYBOY: How about fear?FRAZIER: The only thing I’m afraid of is the dark. I believe in ghosts. I don’t know why, but I guess it was from bein' raised in the country. You hear the owls, you know–hoooooo! Momma was very religious—and very superstitious. She’d always say, when an owl hollers or a bull moans, it’s sadness. In the country, you go out at night to the pumps and stuff to get water, and it’s pitch dark out there, man; you can’t even see your hands. And birds and bees and things fly in front of you—or a rabbit, a coon or a deer jumps out in front of you, but you can’t see it. That’s the only thing I ever really was afraid of, man—just plain old dark. I don’t think too much of ridin' on planes, either. But that’s it. Anything else I would tackle.
PLAYBOY: You look big enough to take care of yourself. How strong are you?FRAZIER: I think I’m pretty strong. I can lift about 300 pounds, you know, just pick it up like that, from the floor. But I don’t usually lift weights because it makes me muscle-bound, and I can’t afford to be muscle-bound. I think I’m pretty strong other ways, too. Any time you can go to camp for seven weeks without sex, I think you’re pretty strong.
PLAYBOY: Do you really go without sex while you’re in training?FRAZIER: Yeah. I don’t know about all fighters, but like I say, I usually go without it for six or seven weeks.
PLAYBOY: What kind of effect does this have on you?FRAZIER: Well, it’s kind of hard to say, because I’ve always fought under those restrictions. So I don’t know what it’s like havin' sex and then fightin'. I know some guys probably have had sex while they were in trainin', but once I go to camp, that’s it. I don’t think sex does anything for your body. It takes too much energy out of you, and what you need in fightin' is energy. If you take the energy out of yourself, I don’t see how you’re gonna be a good fighter, or how you’re gonna last long. You’ll weaken your mind, you’ll weaken your lungs and you’ll weaken your heart, I imagine. Football, basketball—those sports are different.
PLAYBOY: As you get close to a fight, do you get moody?FRAZIER: Once I go into camp, man, I get meaner. I don’t talk much. I don’t smile very much.
PLAYBOY: Are you angry at your opponent?FRAZIER: Well, not really angry at him. But you get worked up because you know he’s the guy who got you there. He’s the guy who’s makin' you lose all the things that you like to do. So he’s the guy who’s gotta go before the gun. He’s the guy you want to take apart.
PLAYBOY: How do you know when you’re ready for a fight?FRAZIER: Well, in the last two weeks of trainin', when my weight is down, I start to really feel sharp. I may just tap a guy and he’ll say, “Man, you’re hittin' hard!” And I say, “I just tapped you.” Because when I’m really gettin' into top shape, I can’t feel my strength.
PLAYBOY: Do you work out a strategy for each opponent?FRAZIER: Yeah. Once I find out what the man is like, I’ll work on it. The thing is to have the type of guy you’re gonna fight in your camp so he can make the road difficult for you. If the guy’s a small man, I get a couple of small men. If he’s big, I get some big men. But I don’t care how slow or fast he is, because I always take a variety of fellas with me—one fast, one slow, one boxer and one puncher. So if my opponent should change his style, I’ll be ready. One thing I don’t do is watch films. The only films I watch are my own. I care about my mistakes, not the other man’s. If he makes one, that’s his problem.
PLAYBOY: Do you get nervous before fight time?FRAZIER: Not really nervous. I get butterflies, just like any normal person. But when the first punch is thrown and I know where it’s at, they’re gone.
PLAYBOY: In some of your fights, you’ve seemed to have had a little trouble in the first round.FRAZIER: Yeah. I’ve been shook. I was shook in the first round of the Manuel Ramos fight. I’ve been down, too—in the first Bonavena fight, though it wasn’t in the first round. But I feel my man out, you see. I don’t wanna jump on him cold, because it’s pretty hard to control him when it’s cold out there. It just takes a little while for me to get warmed up. So I’m out there watchin', and I try to be cautious, but sometimes I get tapped, I get nailed, I get shook. But I feel like I should see what he’s doin', figure him out for one round—then, after that, go to work.
PLAYBOY: Once you do, you set a fast pace for your opponent to match.FRAZIER: He can’t match it. You see, the way I fight, it’s not me beatin' the man: I make the man whip himself. Because I stay close to him. He can’t get out the way. And all the time I’m stayin' close, I’m concentratin' on movin' on him. I may just touch him, you know—and he’s tryin' to fight me off. So he’s tirin' himself out. Each round I get out there and he’s runnin' and he’s throwin' punches—and all along, he’s missin'. If the punches were really landin' that much, he’d slow me down. But see, he’s not hurtin' me. I’m movin' around, slippin' punches and touchin' him, and he can’t get out the way. Before he knows it—whew!—he’s tired. And he can’t pick up his second wind because I’m right back on him again.
PLAYBOY: In your title defense against Ron Stander, it looked as if you weren’t fighting in your usual style.FRAZIER: Right. I was movin' backwards, jabbin', settin' the man up with more punches. But I’m always movin'. I used to always be movin' in, but now I go in movin' around, and if I have to back out, I’ll back out. But I can get right back in fast and attack my opponent again with no problem. I’ve learned a lot in the last three fights I’ve had. And each day I keep learnin' more. I’m movin' more, jabbin' more, usin' more combinations. I feel real confidence in myself now—more than when I fought Ellis, Quarry and Clay.
PLAYBOY: Did you have any doubts about yourself when you fought them?FRAZIER: Well, when you’re comin' along, you’re not always sure you’re in top shape. You’re not sure you’re throwin' your punches right. But now I’m sure. I know when I’m in top shape. I know what to do when I get out there. I know how to pace a man, how to set him up for a shot. I know my job real well.
PLAYBOY: A lot of people felt that Stander—and Terry Daniels—didn’t belong in the same ring with you.FRAZIER: Yeah, a lot of people criticized, because one of the guys wasn’t in top contention. But then, who am I gonna fight? The W.B.A. says any champion has to defend against the number-one challenger, and if number one refuses the match, then it’s number two. So I offered number one, number two, three, four, five, right on down to 10. And 10—Daniels—was the only guy who decided to step up and take a shot at the title. That’s all. The rest of these guys just hide. They don’t want to face me because they’ve been in with me before and they know what it’s like. But they want to be less than a man. They say, “I’d rather fight somebody else.” The plain fact is that they can’t beat the man, because the man hit too hard. If I know I’m good, I’m gonna say I’m good. Just like Clay. I say Clay is good, but I’m the best. Ellis was good, but I’m the best. Quarry was good, but I’m the best. A lot of people say, “Well, so-and-so could have beat him, but….” What but? Ain’t no but. You’re good or you’re bad. That’s all.
PLAYBOY: Who was your toughest opponent?FRAZIER: They were all tough. But I would say that Clay had to be the toughest. I had to go the distance—and I’ve only done that four times in 29 fights.
PLAYBOY: Like Ali, have you ever predicted the outcome of a fight?FRAZIER: No. I’ve never been the type to do that. All I can say is that it’s gonna be a good fight as long as it lasts. And if it goes 15, I’ll be right there smokin'. I don’t believe in predictin' I’m gonna knock a man out, because if you tell me you’re gonna push me out that window at 12 o'clock tonight, I’m gonna sit there and watch you along about 11:59. If a man says he’s gonna knock you out in the first round, or second round, you’ll be lookin' for it. So I wonder, you know, what really goes on with all these predictions of Clay’s.
PLAYBOY: Maybe they were just bad matches, and it was easy for Ali to take them out whenever he wanted to.FRAZIER: I don’t know. Fightin', for me, has always been right-down straight. Somebody made a statement the other day that Clay threw the fight with me. If he did, I hope he does it a little easier next time, because it was awful hard, I’m tellin' ya. Everybody says fights get thrown. I hope if they do, they let me know next time, so I wouldn’t have to work as hard as I have been.
PLAYBOY: Some states recognized you as champion after you beat Buster Mathis—and others after you beat Jimmy Ellis. And a lot of people didn’t recognize you as champ until after the Ali fight. When did you consider yourself champion?FRAZIER: When I whipped Mathis. I know there’s always been some doubt in the public mind about who’s the champ. But when I whipped Mathis in ‘68, I felt like I was the champ, because I didn’t take anything from another man illegally. I didn’t take my title from Clay, I took it from Mathis—legal. So I didn’t have any cloud over my head. We’ve got laws we gotta live by. I didn’t make the rules—though maybe I make some I live by—and when you break the rules, you gotta pay. I didn’t have any malice in my heart against Clay. I felt like if he asked for a title shot, anything I could do to help him get it, I would. And I did. The whole time this man was stripped of his title, I never said one bad word about him. I kept him in the public eye, I went along with him in anything he wanted me to do. I made sure Clay got the title shot—and I whipped him fair and square.
PLAYBOY: Why do you insist on calling him Clay?FRAZIER: You should have a right to call a man what you want to call him. He doesn’t have to like it. He give me a name—he calls me a Tom. So if I gotta be a Tom, he can be Clay. But I would always call him Clay anyway, because I know it gets him mad. I like to make him mad, 'cause there’s nothin’ he can do about it. He can jump in my chest if he wants me.
PLAYBOY: When did he call you a Tom?FRAZIER: Oh, he’s always sayin' that. That’s his routine. If you’re not on his side, or in his organization, he brands you with a name: Tom. I don’t really know what that is, anyway. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know what a person says or does, or how he handles himself, to be a Tom. Really. Because I’m just a regular guy. I treat everybody the same, and I don’t live in the past, worryin' about things that happened 400 years ago. That’s the way he lives.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Ali’s Muslim religion?FRAZIER: I don’t believe in his religion; I don’t believe in nothin' it says. I believe it’s all one big front.
PLAYBOY: A front?FRAZIER: Yeah, a front. That means usin' other men—and mostly what they use, as far as I’m concerned, is the black movement. It’s nice, maybe, for a few guys who’ve had a little outside recognition; they have somethin' to say in the organization. But if Clay weren’t a contender, if he hadn’t been champion, he probably wouldn’t believe so much in the organization—because he wouldn’t have too much to say. I know guys really involved in it, and they don’t.
PLAYBOY: Are the Muslims using him, or is he using them?FRAZIER: I can’t get into that part of it. I’m just talkin' about regular black brothers—small people in the street. I don’t know whether the Muslims are usin' him or not. That’s his ignorance anyway, if he can’t see.
PLAYBOY: Are you religious yourself?FRAZIER: Very religious. I’m a Baptist. I been goin' to church since I was a little fella. I still go—but I would admit I’m not as active in church as I should be, or as I’d like to be. But the Good Man knows why, and I’m hopin, that my pastor and my brothers and sisters in the church understand that.
PLAYBOY: As a religious person, how would you feel if you hurt someone seriously in the ring?FRAZIER: I’d feel real bad—unless I meant to do it. A guy could rap off at the mouth so much you wouldn’t care if you did put him on the hill to push up daisies. It’s wrong, but that’s just the way you feel sometimes about some guys. They get you and hold you and try to make you look like a bad guy, when you know you’re not a bad guy, and you try to help everybody. So you feel like takin' ‘em apart.
PLAYBOY: What do you say to people who claim, as Ali does, that you’re the white man’s champ?FRAZIER: I represent the world, so I don’t see how I can be only the white man’s champ. Now, everybody’s not gonna agree with what you stand for. But if I talk with a white kid and treat him like a human bein’, do I have to be the white man’s champ? I’ll do the same thing if a black man comes up to me and talks. Or anybody who might come up to me and hold conversation, if they’re intelligent and know what they’re talkin' about. But you got people out there that just want to be seen. When they go up to somebody important, they say on the side, “Betcha I can go up there and call him a Tom, I can call him a bigmouth.” Whatever. You know, they want to bet—and a lot of times people don’t make it out of their bets. You know what I mean? But I never would hurt anyone, really. I just don’t see where they get off with that “white man’s champ” business. I represent the world. Fans write from overseas—England, you know, Germany, France—and say they’d love to see me over there because, after all, I’m their champ, too. I’m not just the champion of Philadelphia or the United States.
PLAYBOY: You may be the champ, but Ali probably has at least as many fans who—even after his loss to you—still think he’s the greatest.FRAZIER: It all depends what great means. I don’t see anything so goddamned great that this clown has done. I ain’t seen one great thing he’s done—no greater than me. If they wanna talk about his mouth, yeah, he’s great with his mouth. But in that ring, he ain’t that great.
PLAYBOY: Was he ever?FRAZIER: No. What did he do? I won at the Olympics just like he did. Matter of fact, I won in a higher class than he did. He was light heavyweight and I was heavyweight. So what’s so great? You mean beatin' the draft—winnin' the case on the draft? He’s payin' every day for it. Believin' in the Muslim rite, or whatever—is that the greatest? Tell me what this man has done for black people that I ain’t done.
PLAYBOY: What have you done?FRAZIER: I been movin', I been goin' to schools—I been givin' all of me. Any way I can. I go in the black neighborhood. I think just by bein' a person, the way I am, that’s givin' to the black man. That’s givin' the black man all he needs. Givin' money don’t mean a thing; goin' around sayin' hello don’t mean a thing. You preach ‘bout how you’re black—"Yeah, right on, brother"—what does that mean? Why, I’m five times as black as Clay; and that’s not even lookin’ at the skin. By bein' black and bein' a human bein', by bein' intelligent and handlin' myself well in public, that’s the way I represent black people. Now if you’re talkin' about goin' and makin' a lot of noise—you know, get on television and say “I’m a bad nigger. I know Whitey don’t like me but I don’t care"—I don’t see where that represents your black people. You know what I mean? Or you say, "I’m a pretty nigger.” Does that represent my people? No. You got a lot of pretty black men out here, you understand? Fine-lookin' black men. I consider myself one of them. But I don’t have to get around and make a lot of noise and tell you how pretty I am. If you’re nice and you look good, you’ll shine, man. You don’t have to be plugged in a wall by the mouth to shine.
PLAYBOY: Is it fair to say that there’s a little bad blood between you and Ali?FRAZIER: Yeah. He tries to be the biggest man in the world. If you want to go and talk to your people, you don’t have to block up traffic. When I go downtown, I don’t have to make any noise. As soon as I step out, people know it’s me. “Hi, Joe, what’s up?” “Hey, how ya doin'?” But I seen him go in the ghettos, make a lot of commotion and block up the streets so the police gotta come down and move the traffic. It’s all right if it’s for a good cause. But just to do it because, you know, “I am a Muslim,” or “I’m the greatest,” that’s not right. And after he causes a traffic jam in the ghetto, he goes back to Sugar Hill, Cherry Hill, whatever hill he lives up on. Wherever he goes, he makes a lot of noise. He’s just like a kid who don’t know when to stop. You ever get a kid when you talk to him and play with him, he don’t wanna stop, and you gotta whup his ass to make him behave? That’s what this monkey here is like.
PLAYBOY: Were you sorry that you didn’t knock him out in your title fight?FRAZIER: No, because I wasn’t thinkin' about knockin' him out. I was just gonna whup him. And I did. I whupped him for 15 rounds. I don’t know what points I scored or he scored, but I didn’t see him do nothin' from the time the bell rang except move around and clown. It was a tough fight, like I said, but I don’t think he really has a punch. I don’t think he ever did have a punch. He just wears guys out, you know, by movin', and when they get tired he taps them, and they’re exhausted, so they fall, and stay down. But really, to take a guy out with one punch, I don’t think he’s got the shot. No way.
PLAYBOY: There were times in that fight when he just stood there and let you bang away. He claimed he was showing he could take whatever you had and still hang in. Do you think that’s true?FRAZIER: The truth is he couldn’t move. His body was worn down. Everywhere he went, I was there. They talk about how fast he is, but he couldn’t stay outa my way. I could’ve run past him and then come back and caught him goin' the other way if I’d wanted to. Everything I did, I was at ease, but he was strainin', because his thing is movin'. Mine is movin' in, and I know how to move in.
PLAYBOY: Does it bother you to hear him say he should have had the decision?FRAZIER: No. It bothers me sometimes when I run into people out in the street who talk to him and believe in him—you know, the militant type who believe all that nonsense. But otherwise, if he goes around and makes a lot of noise, that don’t bother me at all.
PLAYBOY: After the Ali fight, you went into a hospital for a while, and there were all kinds of rumors about what was wrong with you. What was wrong?FRAZIER: Well, it was nothin' from the fight. You see the 15-pound medicine ball I was workin' out with today? They slam that into my sides and stomach to help me lose weight. Somehow, I took too many shots with the ball; I got an infection in the kidneys, and in trainin', my blood pressure went up and down. But I knew that with a couple days' rest, it would settle back down. It did; I passed the physical, and we thought that was it. But as soon as I’d start fightin' again, or runnin'—bloop! It would go back up. So that’s why I went in the hospital after the hard 15-round fight. But this monkey didn’t put me in no hospital. Did anybody ever stop to ask him why he was in the hospital?
PLAYBOY: Wasn’t it to have his jaw X-rayed?FRAZIER: For his jaw—but also, he couldn’t walk. They had to put him in his pants. They had to pick him up and set him in his pants. His body was all bruised from body shots.
PLAYBOY: Did your blood-pressure problem bother you during the bout?FRAZIER: No. I didn’t feel a thing. But like the doctor said, when you’re hot you can’t feel nothin' like that. Your body is so hopped up that nothin' bothers you till you start comin' down again. Anyway, next time the public is gonna see a different me out there—a different me altogether. I’m healthy now. He’s gonna be out there tryin' to do the thing to me, but I’m gonna have just a little bit more to turn on than I had the last time. Mindwise, I’m good; physicalwise, I’ll be good; know-how, I’ll be good. So there won’t be nothin' to hold me back. I’ll just crank my motor up and let it go.
PLAYBOY: Howard Cosell says that at the end of the last fight, you were in worse shape than Ali was.FRAZIER: Well, Howard has a job to do. But I don’t feel that he’s been fair to me—or to the public. I don’t think Howard cares too much for blacks, anyhow. But the thing he and Clay got is like a contract: You promote me and I’ll promote you. Durin' the last Olympics, Howard talked about how this guy Bobick was comin' up, and Clay better watch out. Then Bobick lost his fight. Howard wasn’t bein' fair to the public or myself. Clay wasn’t the champ. I was—and I’d also been the Olympic heavyweight champ. George Foreman was an Olympic heavyweight champ, too. So I feel Howard should have talked a little more about that, and related to us when he talked about Clay—but they got their thing goin', so what the hell. Howard is just another fella. He didn’t put no star in my crown, he don’t put no bread in my pocket.
PLAYBOY: Do you think Cosell really knows much about boxing?FRAZIER: Well, he thinks he knows a little about everything. But he really don’t know too much about boxin', except what Clay tries to brief him on. Howard’s a smart announcer, though, bein' an attorney once, you know. And I envy any man who just gets out there and loves himself the way he does.
PLAYBOY: Cosell has predicted that Ali will do better in the rematch than he did in his first fight with you.FRAZIER: I think Clay was better that night than he ever was before, and better than he is now. Because I think that 15-round fight with me didn’t do him any good. He says it did, but believe me, I watched him the other night on some TV talk show, and he walked slow, got up kind of slow. And I know the reason why. It was the fight with me that did it.
PLAYBOY: Why haven’t you come to terms yet on the rematch?FRAZIER: He’s askin' for too much money. I’m askin' for $4,000,000, and I think he wants the same. But he can’t get it. I can’t blame him, though; he knows what he’s got to go through.
PLAYBOY: Where would you like to fight him?FRAZIER: I would say Houston is a good place. Philadelphia’s a good place.
PLAYBOY: How about New York?FRAZIER: No way.
PLAYBOY: Why not?FRAZIER: State taxes. Federal taxes bad enough without the state takin' a chunk, too. Around ‘66, '67, I stepped up into the 75 percent bracket. The government wouldn’t allow me to give my brothers or sisters somethin’, and then file what’s left. And I’ve got brothers and sisters who really need it. There’s a lot of people in my position who could really help their families and friends, but Uncle Sam won’t let ‘em do it. So you’re just throwin’ away your money, and the things you worked hard for all those years, you’re just givin' it away. That ain’t right. You know that Uncle Sam took about a half million dollars out of the Clay fight? Now you figure how many people I could have helped with that money.
PLAYBOY: What do you do with the money that’s left after taxes?FRAZIER: I got a lot of business-minded people around me, you know. I don’t have an attorney’s brain, as far as investin' goes, but I got common sense, and I got the most important thing—the money. Right now I’m gettin' involved in real estate. Also, I got my gym, and I’m gonna fix it up so people can come in and train and keep their weight down. The gym I got now is for fighters, but somebody else might want to just come in to keep their weight down. But my number-one thing is a plantation I bought in South Carolina.
PLAYBOY: That’s a strange kind of investment for a black.FRAZIER: I didn’t do it for any racial reasons.
PLAYBOY: Why did you, then?FRAZIER: Well, by ‘67 or '68 I’d gotten myself out of the hole financially a little bit, and I had a comfortable place for my family to live in. So I was more concerned about Momma. I was tryin’ to find a place for her. We had 10 acres where we used to live at, and when there’s 10 acres to split among 20, 40 people, there’s just no chance. Like all families, whether they’re black, Jewish, Irish, Italian or whatever, they wind up fightin': “I want this part, they should get that part, they shouldn’t have this piece.” So then a real-estate guy from down South, who knew what I was fightin' for, got hold of my attorney. I didn’t see the place—it’s 365 acres—till about three months after I bought it.
The night I drove down, I went to the wrong plantation, and I was gettin' ready to break the lock off somebody else’s plantation. I could have been put in jail—or gotten shot. Then I found out that this property was the wrong place, and I found my way over to the right one. I turned the key and went in—and the place was all grown up. I took my wheels in there and almost got bogged down, the road was so bad. I was disturbed, because a plantation should be a nice, pretty place, all clean and everything and he had said the place wasn’t clean, but he didn’t say it was that bad, either. So I went down and I worked—I spent two, three weeks down there—and the whole time I worked every day from six till about nine at night, cleanin' up, burnin' down, fixin' and repairin'. Now it’s comfortable. We got four homes there, a four-car garage, about three or four ponds—and I feel it’s in better condition than it ever was before.
PLAYBOY: Will you be raising crops on the plantation?FRAZIER: big farmin', because right away the government thinks you’re doin' it for a hobby. Anyway, I’ve already sunk an awful lot of money into the place. I would say, from last year up to now, I’ve sunk about $75,000 or more—close to a hundred thousand—into the plantation. And it still needs cleanin'; fences gotta be fixed, and equipment has to be bought. Remodelin' of the homes. Mom’s home, I remodeled that, made it comfortable for her. My home is remodeled, too, but I’m still tryin' to go back and get all the original furniture, draperies and things. I’ve also got about a six-horse stable, and it’s old, but modern in that it’s clean and solid.
PLAYBOY: Do you ride horses?FRAZIER: Oh, yeah. I can ride—but I’m not very good. I can’t do stunts and all, like I would do on my cycle.
PLAYBOY: What kind of stunts?FRAZIER: I can stand up on my cycle, I can lie down on it, and cross my legs and ride. I been ridin' the cycle five years or more, and I love it. A motorcycle is somethin' I think every man should cross once. Come to think about it, if we had all cycles, people wouldn’t have so much pollution. I think in the summertime, especially in the cities, people should ride cycles and bikes.
PLAYBOY: Aren’t cycles dangerous?FRAZIER: No more dangerous than a car. And how dangerous can a cycle be when there’s nothin' but cycles around it? That’s what they do in foreign countries. All you see over there is cycles. Japan—nothin' but bikes. A lot of people think you gotta be a hood, or a hippie, or a gang member, or else down-right crazy to ride a cycle. But a motorcycle is a real thrill, man. It makes you feel powerful, it makes you reflexes fast. Maybe a man over 40, say, or 45, shouldn’t cross a cycle, though he could be older if his reflexes were still good. But on a bike, there’s no time for thinkin'—you gotta be right there, and know what you’re doin'. Like in boxin'. Your timin' has to be together.
PLAYBOY: Before you became a fighter—-FRAZIER: What I was doin'?
PLAYBOY: Yes.FRAZIER: Well, I grew up fast—real fast. At the age of 14, I had the mind of a 22-year-old. Because I lived around six brothers and three sisters. And my daddy, he and I were like this, you know; nothin' was gonna get between us. Dad was a hustler, you know, not the kind of hustler we got today, but he was a hustler as far as makin' a livin' for his family. He was a woodcutter and a junkman. He’d scrap up iron, get it together and sell it. He bought all his sons cars; he didn’t have the money to buy the kind of cars I’m buyin' today, but he would pick up cars where the engine went bad or whatever, and that’s how we learned to work on them. You can take an automobile engine and throw it on the floor, and I’ll put it back together for you.
And I learned about girls, too. I’d run with my father, and what I didn’t learn about women myself, he’d tell me. I left school in the tenth grade—I didn’t go all the way—and there’s no doubt about it, I had some rough years. And I left the South because it seemed like there was a bind around me; I had to get away. I came up to New York, I worked a little while in some of the factories, and I was tryin' to make a good livin'—but somethin' just wasn’t right. I wasn’t movin' fast enough. I was around guys who were my age, but they were always able to scrape up some bread to get themselves a nice car or somethin'—but me, I just didn’t get it. So I left New York and I moved to Philadelphia, which was good for me.
PLAYBOY: You got into boxing here?FRAZIER: Yeah. In the South, they didn’t have facilities, but I used to hang bags up in the trees. The bag would be some make-believe cat, and I would make believe I was Joe Louis, or Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore—somebody great. I was always huge, you know, a heavy guy. But I wasn’t tall—just wide. I couldn’t find clothes to fit me. And when I came here, I wasn’t gettin' my way with the women. So after I came to Philadelphia, I decided to get my weight down. First I tried baseball, but the weight wasn’t comin' off like I wanted it to. Then I found a gym. I went in there every day, and it started comin' off nice.
PLAYBOY: You weren’t boxing professionally then. So what did you live on after you got to Philadelphia?FRAZIER: Well, in ‘62, when I moved here, a guy took me to the slaughterhouse—he’d been workin’ there for some years—and he introduced me to this foreman, who was the kind of person that just didn’t like people in general, and made everything just a little more difficult. But I stayed on this job for about a year, man, before I even got on it steady. I used to go there and work for nothin' to try and learn the job. I don’t figure any man in the United States had it harder than I did. Not only as a man, but as a young boy, too. I used to work on the farm, along with my momma and my daddy. I used to tote baskets and stuff, and sometimes I would drive tractors. It was a hard road to walk up. Anyway, this guy at the slaughterhouse just didn’t want to be bothered with anybody. But I worked, I learned the job, without really gettin' paid for it. And the guys I went around with seemed like they just didn’t want me to move, didn’t want me to go no place. They didn’t want me to be nothin' but just another guy.
Before I got with Cloverlay, I had guys who were supposed to be millionaires try to stop me from workin'. They’d say, “I’ll give you money just to train.” No papers, no handshake. Right? I’d quit, and then they wouldn’t come through. I was stuck. But I didn’t give up. I went back to the job. I finally got with Cloverlay in ‘65—I think it was '65—but I didn’t sign a contract at first. They just said, “You take off, and whenever you need something, go to the gentleman over here.” So I went to the gentleman, who wanted to be a big guy, but didn’t really have the bread to supply me with the things I needed for my family. Some days I’d wind up with 25, 30 dollars, so we’d just buy food and forget about the rent. I had to go through this daily.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t you get discouraged?FRAZIER: No. I always said, “There’s gotta be a way, man, I gotta keep goin’ somehow.” I think about it now as I ride in my car, and I just laugh to myself. I remember all them headaches and heartaches, and I look around and I say, “Hey, man, this can’t be true.” And I’m happy about it, because nobody gave me nothin'.
PLAYBOY: Would there have been any way for you to get where you are today except by boxing?FRAZIER: I don’t think so—not unless I went back to some trade school. It’s hard for a black man to get a job. As a matter of fact, it’s hard for everybody to get a job. But mainly so for the black man. Still, if he puts his foot down and says, “Look, I want this job—tell me what I’m gonna have to do to get it,” then gets down to work and studies it, he can do it. But he’s gonna have to scuffle for it himself. You can’t go in there and say, “Look, man, you gotta hire me because I’m black, or I’m white.” That don’t mean a thing to the man. You’ve gotta look at it from all points. When I was young, if you told me you didn’t have anything for me, I’d say, “OK, there’s gotta be somethin' I can do around here. Just name it and I’ll do my blow.” “We ain’t got nothin'.” “All right, if I come back tomorrow, probably you’ll have somethin'.” “You do that.” Well, I kept comin' back, and finally they did have somethin' for me. I never gave up.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about government welfare programs for those who aren’t as able-bodied or well motivated as you were?FRAZIER: You wouldn’t need Medicare, Social Security or welfare if the government would give out work instead of money. It should move into the cities and build more big factories so the people who live in the ghettos, who don’t have the education to get a better job, could work there and support their families. Just give poor folks a chance to better their own condition. They don’t want no handouts. They’d rather work for it.
We black people been workin' 400, 500 years. Without us, without poor folks, this country wouldn’t run. It’s the poor man who built this country, who did the labor, who had the skill to put it together. The man with the money just paid him to do it—but not enough to live on. That’s why we have our crimes; that’s why people lose their lives for no reason—because they get tired of tryin', tired of bein' let down—and a man decides he has to steal to feed his family.
PLAYBOY: Many cities have elected law-and-order mayors—such as Frank Rizzo in your own Philadelphia—instead of providing employment for the poor. Do you think he’s done a good job?FRAZIER: I know the mayor real well, and he’s doin' the best he can. Since he was police commissioner, we’ve had less crime than anywhere else in America. We got less of a gang problem. And I ain’t seen where anyone down the line, or he himself, has given any kind of order to hurt an innocent person. He’s got more black policemen on the staff than they have anywhere else. And I think he’s opened a lot of doors for the poor people; I think he knows what it’s like to be poor. He’s given a lot of blacks high official jobs. Now, I wouldn’t agree, maybe, with all the decisions he’s made, but we had an awful lot of violence in the streets, and now it’s somewhat under control. Every now and then, one or two people are gonna lose their cool and blow their tops, you know—but we got a nice city to live in here since he’s been in.
PLAYBOY: Do people on the street ever hassle you just to see how tough the heavyweight champ is?FRAZIER: I’ve had guys walk up and want to take me on. Probably because they told some other guy they were gonna take a shot at me—that’s about all it boils down to. Most of the time, they don’t really mean any harm.
I remember one time, though, when a guy jumped in the ring durin' one of my fights—I forget which fight it was—and he claimed he was comin' up there to kill me. The policemen stopped him as he was comin' in. But things like that don’t bother me. Sometimes I carry a security man—but when I want to be at my personal places, I don’t carry him, because nobody outside knows I’m there. And when I’m movin' around the city by myself, I don’t have any problems with anybody, because I’m the quiet type. I’m a professional fighter, and I don’t have to put on a show in public.
PLAYBOY: How do you manage to keep your temper?FRAZIER: Before I ever do anything, I look at the bad part of it. If I feel like I want to go out and drive my automobile 100 miles an hour, I’m gonna think about it first—and if I wind up doin' it, I’m still thinkin' about it. And when I’m through lookin' at the bad part, it usually turns out there ain’t any good part. You see? If I go out there and drive that c