Sonny & Smokin' Joe Frazier

Smokin’ Joe Frazier will be remembered as one of the great boxing champions of all time, a stocky fighter who overcame bigger opponents with tremendous heart and a tremendous left hook. Frazier died November 7 at a hospice in Philadelphia after a short fight with liver cancer. He was 67.

I’ll also remember Smokin’ Joe for his visit to our Voice of

VOA's Rod Thomas

America headquarters in 2004, a visit he clearly enjoyed, because a few months later he invited me and my VOA colleagues Rod Thomas and Dwayne Collins to visit him at his boxing gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Marvis & Joe Frazier, 1981 Sports Illustrated cover

I brought along my two sons, Jesse and Alex, for the trip to Philly. I wanted them to get a chance to meet a boxing legend. Joining us at Joe Frazier’s Gym was his 51-year-old son, Marvis, who Smokin’ Joe once trained during his own prizefighting career.

After retiring from boxing, Marvis became a minister, and he told us, “My father was my motivation. The word of God says, ‘The glory of children are their fathers.’ I love my father more than anything in the world. My father has a special place in my heart.”

Smokin’ Joe Frazier also has a special place in the hearts of boxing fans, who remember his three epic fights against Muhammad Ali. Their bout on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines, was nicknamed “The Thrilla In Manila,” and it’s regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight bouts in history.

Muhammad Ali would describe his victory in Manila as his toughest ever fight, saying, “it’s the closest I’ve ever come to death.” Ali’s longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee, told me the two fighters needed each other to cement their legacies. “Boxers blend with each other,” said Dundee. “The perfect blend was Frazier. Whenever you threw those two guys (Ali and Frazier) into a situation, there had to be excitement.”