New Joe Frazier Doc Debuts Next Month

Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears from Riverhorse on Vimeo.

It is strange that Philadelphia chooses to identify itself with a fictional boxer who overcomes monumental odds to become champion, when they have a real life boxer whose story is far more incredible than anything ever penned by Sly Stallone.

Joe Frazier grew up in South Carolina, the son of a one-armed moonshine runner. He dropped out of school to become a farmer, but after objecting to the way his employer beat another worker, he was fired. Frazier decided to move north, staying with his brother in New York City. He found no work in the Big Apple, and desperate and dead broke, moved to Philadelphia. There he started working at a slaughterhouse (sound familiar?) and learned to box.

You probably know the rest of the story: The three epic bouts with Ali, the two losses to Foreman, and the still burning hatred Frazier has for Ali (with good reason, quite frankly). But unlike the other heavyweight champs of that age (Ali, Foreman, Holmes, who are all millionaires), Frazier ran through all of the money he made as a boxer, and his gym in Philadelphia recently closed.

Frazier is the type of athlete that Philadelphia usually celebrates proudly: an athlete who made the most of everything he had, overcame enormous odds to get to the top, and left it all in the ring every time he went out. Furthermore, when his career was over, he came back to Philly to train young boxers and try to keep them off the streets. So why hasn’t the city warmed to him? Comedian Bill Burr offered a theory when he raged against a Philly crowd a few years ago (extremely unsafe for work).

“Rocky is your f***ing hero. Your hero is a guy who doesn’t even exist. Joe Frazier is from there, but he’s black, so you can’t f***ing deal with him, so you make a f***ing statue for some 3 foot f***ing Italian, you stupid cheesesteak eating f***ing jackasses.”

Ah, the Rocky statue. Remarkably, a Rocky statue exists in front of our world famous Art Museum while the Facebook page to build Joe Frazier a statue has a mere 30 members. It defies explanation, and while racism certainly has something to do with it, it doesn’t explain it all. It’s not like this is a lily white town, nor do local white people seem to harbor any sort of a grudge against Frazier.

I think it has more to do with a couple of other factors. First of all, boxing popularity is at an all-time low, particularly at  in the heavyweight division. People don’t think about Frazier because they hardly think about boxing at all. Moreover, while Philadelphia has a reputation as a boxing town, I’m not so sure I believe that still holds true. The Blue Horizon recently closed. The fights I’ve seen at the New Alhambra are never packed. I never, EVER, hear anyone in Philly talk about boxing except for a few older heads at my gym. The city has also never warmed to the remarkable Bernard Hopkins, who has a fascinating past, has overcome long odds, and is in the discussion of greatest middleweights ever.

There is a new documentary about Smokin’ Joe Frazier set to be released next month, and it will cover these topics and more as it follows Joe and the last days of his gym. It was shot several years ago, as the gym was closing, and the film has recently been completed. The Joe Frazier Gym has since closed, and as far as I can tell its future is still in limbo. This looks like an interesting film, with interviews from childhood friends of Frazier’s as well as boxing luminaries (including Hopkins, Foreman, and Holmes). Perhaps fittingly, it will not debut in Philadelphia.


4 Comments on “New Joe Frazier Doc Debuts Next Month”

  1. Mike Todd says:

    The film will be on at the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 22…

  2. [...] bouts with Ali, Frazier’s life was full of amazing turns. Johnny Goodtimes, at the excellent Philly Sports History blog, summarizes some of them (my [...]

  3. [...] bouts with Ali, Frazier’s life was full of amazing turns. Johnny Goodtimes, at the excellent Philly Sports History blog, summarizes some of them: Joe Frazier grew up in South Carolina, the son of a one-armed moonshine [...]

  4. [...] bouts with Ali, Frazier’s life was full of amazing turns. Johnny Goodtimes, at the excellent Philly Sports History blog, summarizes some of [...]


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