Joe Frazier is no longer smokin’. May he rest in peace.
Frazier did not like Muhammad Ali but may have disliked reporters even more. I was at a TCA press tour nearly two years ago where Fraser, who died yesterday at 67, and fellow former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes were before press to talk about the terrific documentary Facing Ali for Spike TV.
Holmes was relaxed and playful during the session. Frazier, already confined to a wheelchair, was not. He remembered 1971, that first fight with Ali, and how the press loved Muhammad and helped him cast Frazier as the “gorilla.” As he told us about those taunts, “you guys liked it. You guys thought it was funny. We didn’t think it was funny at the time.”
Holmes was eventually able to ease that giant chip off Frazier’s shoulder just a little bit. The entire report on that memorable press tour session is here, but this exchange was the highlight:
LARRY HOLMES: Ali was great, and I loved Ali then. I love him now, and Joe Frazier might say he don’t like Ali, but Joe loves Ali too.
JOE FRAZIER: Love seeing him falling down.
LARRY HOLMES: You love Ali. Come on. Tell the people you love Ali.
JOE FRAZIER: Of course I love him, I mean, because, number one, we were the guys that start off that big purse. I went to the president —
LARRY HOLMES: Not because he gave you $20 million. It wasn’t the money, Joe, was it?
JOE FRAZIER: Yeah, but I love everybody, and let’s say number one. I’ve done a lot for him. He didn’t — I don’t think he likes me.
LARRY HOLMES: Ali loves you, too, because you gave him $20 million too.
JOE FRAZIER: No. He don’t love me. He called me ugly, and I was just trying —
LARRY HOLMES: You wanted Ali to tell you you was pretty?
JOE FRAZIER: Why not?
LARRY HOLMES: He’s a man. A man is supposed to call a man ugly. If you called me pretty man, I would say, “Joe.” [Gesturing with a limp wrist.]
JOE FRAZIER: Please don’t.