I want to talk about three former world heavyweight champions in Muhammad Ali, “Smokin” Joe Frazier and Larry “The Easton Assassin”.
Starting with the former world heavyweight champion known as “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali, it was in 1973 just after his first fight with Ken Norton. In March Ali lost a split decision while suffering a broken jaw.
This writer was in center city Philadelphia not yet a writer but a salesman. I heard Ali lived at 70th and Overbrook (1835 N. 72nd St) in West Philadelphia. I looked across the street around 16th and Chestnut and saw half a dozen people standing there and thought “did someone jump off the roof?” I go over and there is none other than Muhammad Ali!
This old guy yells at Ali and says “next time you fight Norton be a man not a boy!” Ali fires back immediately “did you call me Roy?” All in the group started laughing but the old guy. Ali was known for his rhymes. The guy looks around us as if to say “back me up on this will you?” He then fires back again saying, “The next time you fight Norton be a man not a boy!” Ali fires back “play with him like a toy. Did you call me Roy?” Even the old guy was laughing.
Two weeks later the Philadelphia Daily News (still have a copy) dated September 12th showed his former residence in Philadelphia and his new home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. So, out of curiosity I go over to Cherry Hill and find his home and knock on the door. His wife Belinda answers and I ask “can I speak to the champ?” She replies, “just a minute.” As she closed the door I thought “she isn’t coming back”.
The door opens and Belinda says “come on in”. As I walk into the vestibule I see a banner proclaiming Ali is a Muslim, a picture of a horse (being from Kentucky) and a plaque from the Cherry Hill Little League thanking him for his support. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Ali approaching. I knew if I didn’t get in the first word I am not getting one in. I pointed toward him and proclaimed “why didn’t you give Doug Jones and Ron Lyle a rematch? Did your stablemate Louie Rodriguez (my all-time favorite boxer) teach you everything you know?” I can’t remember what he fired back that silenced me but he ended with “come back here and sit down!”
Living within an hour of Ali’s training camp at Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. I traveled there on at least three occasions with a picture in August of 1977 sitting in a group asking Ali “why are you fighting all these bums?” I did it purposely to get that “what you talking about Willis look”. His business manager Kilroy was taking the picture with my camera and not happy about what I said.
On another occasion he was sitting on this sofa with another after his workout and I took the liberty of sitting across the two of them on a sofa. Ali asks “what you doing here boy?” I told him I was going up to Scranton (May 20, 1980), that night and asked if he was going?” Ali asked “who’s fighting?” I replied a guy from outside of Philly (Marty Capasso) and Ali Allen”. He says “Ali, Ali?”
Then Ali asks “where you from boy?” I replied “now I live in a small town called Lafayette Hill”. The person next to him whisper’s in Ali’s ear something.” Ali starts to get up as if to come at me and says “hold me back, that’s where Frazier’s from!” I laughed out loud!
I also remember being at the Deer Lake camp seeing Ali appear without a shirt on. That is rare for a boxing gym. He started addressing the fans that came up by the busload. From standing to the side it looked like he had a black pen in his left hand. As it turned out Ali loves magic tricks and had a plastic stick in his hand that when he snapped it out suddenly it was a foot long! He did yelled to the fan’s “you can’t say I had it up my sleeve, but you Norton spies tell him how fast I am!” Everyone in the gym was laughing!
I have written numerous articles on Ali like “Was Muhammad Ali the Most Recognized Person to Walk the Earth?” Was Ali a Drafter Dodger or a Hero?” The best of the lot was “Laughs with Ali!” That tells of my experiences with him as I have previously written in this article.
Now, let’s talk about “Smokin” Joe Frazier. At his gym in North Philly on Broad Street I remember seeing Joe spar with his son Marvis, Duane Bobick and Jimmy Young. Have to say Young made him look bad.
After his career was over I would see Joe training boxers while he had a straw hat on and a beer can next to him on the gym floor. I’m not sure how good his instructions were but when he hit the bag with that left hook of his the bag moved!
I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of Joe’s and living in Lafayette Hill where he had a home I approached one of our mutual friends Naz Galie. He was a Whitemarsh Township police officer there and a motorcycle buddy of Joe’s. I said “why don’t we do something to honor Joe Frazier?” He replied “you don’t even like Joe!” I said “well he’s the ex-champ living here in Whitemarsh and as far as I know no one has done anything for him”. We took about six months trying to track down Joe’s secretary in order to have a surprise party for Joe. He was on the road with his band “Joe Frazier and the Knockouts!” We had no success.
Finally, Galie said “I know his wife, Florence, and will contact her”. When we arrived at their home on Germantown Pike she was thrilled to hear what we had planned. She said “no one’s ever done anything like this for Joe”. Seconds later who walks in the front door but Joe. There goes the surprise I thought. Out of his mouth he says with a frown “what you guy’s doing here?”
Galie, usually very talkative never said a word the entire time Joe was there. I said “we wanted to honor you with a surprise party at a local country club”. Joe said “whose paying for this?” I said “people like your mother we will fly up for free while half the people will pay like they do for the Maxwell Club (local football club honoring players).” Joe probably thought I was talking about Maxwell coffee. Joe says “when Joe gives a party no one pays!” I’m thinking “when did he ever give a party?” Suddenly he starts out the back door. As he passes his wife she says “Joe, where are you going?” He snaps at her saying “I’s be back when I’m back, woman!”
I felt really bad for her but I knew from reputation Joe was like a “street guy” and you didn’t want to question him. She apologized for him and I told her “it wasn’t your fault”. We left and that was that. On June 13, 2011, Joe was asked through his Business Manager Les Wolff by boxing man Dave Ruff to see if Joe would come to Wilmington, Delaware to talk to the kids at the Fraim’s Boys & Girls Club where Ruff worked with the kids on boxing. Joe agreed when asked by Wolff.
Joe couldn’t have been nicer with the kids there. This was about five months before his death. I asked him “didn’t George Benton train your son Marvis in the amateurs?” He replied “yes”. I did an article after this “How good would Marvis Frazier Been If His Father Didn’t Train Him?” Joe turned what Benton had Marvis as a boxer to what Joe did in taking him into a fighting style like himself. I felt that was a big mistake! Marvis was a natural all-around athlete at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School until one summer he decided to go to Joe’s gym to stay in shape and that was the beginning of his boxing career and the end of sports at his high school.
Now, we get to Larry “The Easton” Assassin. Being in sales at the time I had met Holmes on several occasions and considered him a “Jekyll and Hyde!” You never knew what kind of mood he would be in upon meeting him.
I was promoting my third show in the Lehigh Valley, this one at Easton High School. I was outside of Larry’s gym when I saw his younger brother Mark (was about 6-0 at the time) who I was looking for. I asked him “I probably can’t afford your services but would you like to put on an exhibition for a show I’m promoting (November 3 1982), with 10% of the profits going to St. Anthony’s where you and Larry got your start. He told me I had to see Larry who was his manager.
Upon approaching Larry about the proposal he snapped “I ain’t putting my brother on some rinky dink show!” That was that! Later that afternoon I went to the gym of his to watch him spar. While sparing, he suddenly stopped and walked to the ropes pointing to me while sitting in a metal folding chair and yelled, “I ought to come down there and beat the shit out of you. The next time I tell you something don’t go to my brother!” I knew I didn’t, but there was a pond outside and I couldn’t swim figuring he might throw me in it so I just got up and left. We would never meet again. When I started writing I scorched him whenever I had the chance due to his ignorance. How “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and Carl “The Truth” Williams got robbed in fighting him but never got a rematch. That is when he cried to his promoter Don King “I’m tired of fighting these young lions!” That is when King approached New Jersey official Bob Lee who along with South Korean officials started the IBF with Holmes as their heavyweight champion.
Another article was when I saw Larry at the Sand’s Casino in Bethlehem, PA, talking to Mike Tyson who was part of the promotional group that night. I wrote “Tyson and Holmes II”. The last time they met Holmes feet were up in the air!”
Several years ago I as a member of the PAB HOF committee nominated Mark Holmes who was voted in and inducted. At the ceremony Larry was not there but in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. After the event I told Mark of the experience and he points to the parking lot where Larry was arriving. He smiled and said “why don’t you go tell Larry this?” I thought how I would be knocked to the ground and kicked in the head by Larry so I passed. I went out a side door and had someone take me to my car.
I remember going to Frazier’s statue ceremony and passing on the one Holmes had for himself. Matter of fact I understand he paid for the statue.
Ali was a super individual while Frazier and Holmes more bully-like.