Despite being the heavyweight champion of the world and an Olympian, Joe Frazier was often quiet, and even seemed downright mute when compared to his most infamous rival, Muhammad Ali.
While Ali welcomed camera crews and the spotlight, Frazier was more about letting his gloves do the talking.
It wasn’t until his boxing days were over that Frazier became a bit more interested in talking about his life.
Here are some fascinating tidbits you probably didn’t know about Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
Frazier believed that he inspired a famous scene in Rocky:
“I was the drain man. My job was to make sure the blood went down the drain. But sometimes, early in the morning, I’d go down that long rail of meat and work on my punching,” he told The Guardian about his time working in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse.
“That’s how [Sylvester] Stallone got the same idea for Rocky—just like he used the story about me training by running up the steps of the museum in Philly. But he never paid me for none of my past. I only got paid for a walk-on part. Rocky is a sad story for me.”
Frank Sinatra played photographer for Frazier:
On March 8, 1971 Frazier fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title of the world. LIFE magazine commissioned singer Frank Sinatra, who moonlighted as an amateur photographer, to shoot the event.
Frazier asked President Richard Nixon to give Ali his license back so he could beat him:
“I went to see President Nixon at the White House. It wasn’t difficult to get a meeting because I was heavyweight champion of the world,” he said to The Guardian. “So I came to Washington and walked around the garden with Nixon, his wife and daughter. I said: ‘I want you to give Ali his license back. I want to beat him up for you.’ Nixon said, ‘Sure, I’d like that.’ He knew what he was doing and so Ali got his license back.”
Frazier was a singer:
He performed from time to time with his band Joe Frazier and the Knockouts.
He was practically blind his left eye by 1974:
In the ’60s, shards of metal landed in his eyes while training with a faulty speed bag in Philadelphia. His trainers kept it a secret so he could continue to fight, but a decade later, he developed cataracts from the scar tissue and lost most of his vision in his left eye.
Frazier’s father was a one-armed moonshine runner:
“I never asked him what happened. Don’t know what exactly. But the story I heard was that another man tried to kill him in an argument over a woman,” he admitted to Esquire.
Frazier was scared of George Foreman:
“I wasn’t a big guy. People thought the big guys would eat me up. But it was the other way around. I loved to fight bigger guys,” he told Esquire. “Only one big guy I didn’t like to fight. That was George. Fightin’ George Foreman is like being in the street with an eighteen-wheeler comin’ at you.”
Foreman was just as scared of Frazier:
“Joe Frazier, he was the toughest guy I’d ever seen,” Foreman said in an interview with Johnny Carson.
He cut up his Olympic gold medal:
“I had my Olympic gold medal cut up into eleven pieces. Gave all eleven of my kids a piece. It’ll come together again when they put me down,” he told Esquire in 2004.
How he wants to be remembered:
In an interview with AskMen: There are discussions in Hollywood about a film. Fans stream out to meet me when I make public appearances and do corporate meet-and-greets. I’ve got my health. I get paid every week. I take care of the things I need to take care of. I’ve achieved “the American dream.” I feel it’s my duty to help others achieve their vision, too—especially the youth. Giving back is very important. I think people like me, who’ve been in the fight game, need to be there now. You took something out, put something back in. If you don’t have a car, and if you haven’t driven one before, how are you going to teach me?
And something everyone already knew about Joe Frazier…