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Playboy Interview: 'Smokin' Joe Frazier
  • November 07, 2011 : 20:11
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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.

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