THRILLA IN MANILA FLASHBACK

Joe Frazier: The fighter, the man

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The author (center) with Frazier’s social secretary Denise Menz (right) and Philippines News Agency feature writer Teresa Reyes-Tunay.
PHOTO FROM EDDIE ALINEA’S FILE

Joe Frazier, the fighter, was a bull, a tiger and a gorilla as arch-enemy Muhammad Ali called him. But as a man, Joe was simple, kind-hearted, generous, very patient and very human.

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As a boss, ‘Smokin’ Joe was simply great.

Thus was how Joe was known by people closest to him, not as a fighter but as a man and head of the ‘Smokin’ Joe Incorporated and three other companies he was able to up as a boxer.

Outside the ring, Frazer’s life was dedicated to his family, and his people, particularly the children, whom he loved so much that a big part of his earnings went to them.

“Children should be loved, ‘cuz they’re the future citizens of the world. They should be kept out of streets, where most of the times they’re liable to do things that should not be done,” Frazier said in a one-on-one bedside interview with this writer a few days after his arrival in he country for his much-awaited “Thrilla in Manila’ titular fight on October 1, 1975.

“I should know ‘cuz I was at it,’ Joe reminisced, reciting the day when he was, at a young age 16 and having a wife and a first-born child Marvis, had to fight for survival.

“Times were when guys who didn’t want to work approached me milking for money and I had to fight them off to bring the money instead to Florence, my wife, by somethin’ for Marvis,” he said, pointing to a framed picture of his wife on the bedside table at the Hyatt Regency presidential suit, which he always brought wherever and whenever he fought. Joe bared having to fight all his life – inside and outside the ring for Marvis and the four girls that followed his only boy— Jacqueline, Weatta, Jonetta and Natasha, who weren’t born yet. “I didn’t want Marvis on the streets and I had to do everythin’ to give him everythin’.”

Outside the room were Misses Patty Dreifuss and Denise Menz, Joe’s personal and social secretary, respectively, who both narrated how their boss helped men on the streets who regularly visited Joe in his office weekly to ask for money “as if they belonged to the company’s payroll.”

“Our boss is very generous,” the duo chorused. “But his main concern really were the children. He loves them. Haven’t you heard him talked about the Filipino children on the streets on our way to Elorde’s place and back here? How he’d wanted to meet the Filipino kids?”

“As a boss? By, he’s great. No words really are apt to describe him, he’s so great I can even work for him without pay,” Ms. Menz attested. “You meet him at the office and he greets you readily with his ‘Hi, Sugar, how’re you feelin’? Any problem? “

Shortly after beating Ali in the much celebated “Super Fight I” that earned for him $2.5 million, Big Joe bought the Breton Plantation in Beaufont County in South Carolina for $157,000 fr his mother. It was where he worked as a farm hand before beg involved I prizefighting. He also purchased a $400,000 house for Florence and their children.

Joe then thought of the Philadelphia Kids who needed caring for. He built a gym on the ground floor of his North Broad St property and founded the “Silver Gloves” tournament that later served as eliminator of the Middle Atlantic Amateur Athletic Union for the”Golden Gloves” championships, a nation-wide tourney he dominated in his younger days as a fighter.

When the “Golden Gloves” program was nearly scrapped for financial reason just months before Thrilla, Joe came to the rescue by sponsoring the tournament, shouldering all the contestants’ plane fares, hotel accommodation, aside from donating all the trophies.

 

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