(NOV 9) I was deeply
saddened to hear that Joe Frazier passed away earlier today
like I’m sure most of the boxing world was. He was a living
legend and right up to his passing was so dedicated to the sport
that bought him fame and fortune.
Whilst most people will remember Joe for his trilogy of fights
with Ali, I remember him with deep affection for a totally
different reason... It was Joe and his son Marvis that first got
me involved in boxing.
In late 2005, whilst I was recovering from a serious illness, I
traveled to Philadelphia to spend some time with my fiancée
Marianne Marston, who was there on an extended business trip.
Frazier, Marianne Marston and Smokin’ Joe Frazier
The day I arrived in Philly, Marianne was particularly buoyant,
not because I had made the trip but because that afternoon she
had accidentally met with Joe in a coffee shop opposite our
Marianne, who had recently started boxing training with Choleton
Senior in London, was recounting the story to me of how they
met, before saying that Joe had invited her to try out at his
North Philadelphia gym.
The very next morning we grabbed a cab and made our way along
Broad Street, we passed the famous Blue Horizon - which also
sadly is no longer with us, well as a boxing venue anyway - and
continued North to a rather run down part of Philly.
When we arrived at the gym we were greeted by Joe’s son Marvis,
Marianne showed him the card Joe had given her and told him that
Joe invited her to try out at the gym. Marvis welcomed us both
with open arms and sent Marianne to get changed.
Joe demonstrates to
Marianne reflex bag technique
About half an hour later, whilst Marvis was taking Marianne on
the pads, a dapper older gent arrived and stood by the side of
the ring observing. At the time I was sitting on one of the
sofas in the waiting area reading, for some reason I kept
stopping and looking over at the new arrival, he was intently
watching the session but never spoke a word.
When Marvis had finished the session the older guy called
Marianne over, Marianne looked nervous as she spoke with him and
it was then that it dawned on me that this was the legendary
Smokin’ Joe himself.
Joe got Marianne to climb out of the ring and personally started
working with her, adjusting her stance before getting her to
work on the heavy bag, speed bag and uppercut bag. Marianne was
clearly nervous, but Joe was a patient teacher and he gave her
nearly two hours of his time, during which he actively
demonstrated virtually everything.
After they had finished and Marianne had got changed Joe
summoned us to his office, where he promptly told Marianne that
she is very good, technically a bit rough but has a lot of
potential and that he would like her to become part of Team
A training schedule was set there and then for the six weeks
Marianne would be in Philly this trip. For the rest of the stay
we were at the gym at 9 am sharp, I would sit reading while Joe,
or when he wasn’t there Val Colbert or Marvis, would work with
After about a week or so Joe decided Marianne was ready to spar
and called over a lad named Sean and told him to glove up.
Marianne soon learned that sparring in Philadelphia is different
to London, it’s not about learning it’s about surviving.
Throughout the session Joe barely spoke, the only time he did
was to instruct Marianne when to let rip with a big left hook -
something that confused me at first so I turned to Marvis and
asked why Joe kept encouraging Marianne to throw her left hook,
he simply told me to watch Joe’s face when she throws it, so I
did and each time Joe’s face would light up.
It was then that I realised just how much Joe loves passing on
his boxing skills and the thrill he gets when a student
effectively uses a particular aspect he has taught. He was the
king of the left hook so Marianne being a southpaw he’d put a
lot of work into developing her left hook.
After the first six weeks training were over we flew back to
London and tried to find a gym for Marianne to train at in
London, it was a joke All Stars being the only one to even
entertain any form of training, although they offered her
Joe’s secretary Barbie kept in touch, by email, with
instructions from Joe on what training he wanted Marianne to do
as well as checking that she was OK. After just three or four
weeks Marianne was getting so frustrated that she decided we
were to return to Philly for another month or so in order to
As before I would just sit and read while she trained, Joe and
the rest of the team would chat with me occasionally but that
was the total level of our contact for about six months or so
during the back and forward traveling for Marianne’s training.
About a day or so into our September visit Marvis came over to
speak with me and asked if I could help get some of the
youngsters in the gym, as well as the gym itself, some media
exposure as he and Joe was impressed with the levels Marianne
received after I had put out a press release on her being
trained by Joe.
Of course I did and the next thing I know I became the publicist
for the gym and worked alongside Marvis and Barbie on raising
the profile of the gym, in order to attract more fighters, as
well as started approaching sponsors, as the gym building was in
very poor condition and Marvis had a vision to develop it into
the Joe Frazier Boxing Museum.
We were still only spending a month or so at a time in Philly,
however this was set to change. When we returned in November Joe
called Marianne in to the office to discuss her pro debuting the
following spring. Joe then added that he wanted her to move to
Philly for six months so he could fully prepare her for the
proposed debut full time.
In January 2007 we made the move and now being fully a part of
the team I started to spend more and more time with Joe, he’d
often call me into his office to just chat. I found these times
nothing short of awesome, I mean there I am sitting with one of
the greatest boxers of all time
When Joe talked about his career it was with such enthusiasm and
affection. It was also not unusual for Joe to reenact aspects of
past fights. I’m not talking sitting there throwing punches I’m
talking about full enactment, bear in mind how frail Joe was at
this time yet there he was moving about like a man half his age
and throwing punches from every conceivable angle, including his
fearsome trademark left hooks.
Joe, Marvis and Barbie were wonderful to work with, their
enthusiasm for the sport and the gym was utterly contagious, I
would be at the gym from 9am through to the gym closing around
8pm, except when the gym closed early for us to go to a pro show
at the Blue Horizon or as a team we went to support the gym’s
amateurs at an event.
This was something else I found particularly wonderful about
Joe, it didn’t matter if you were a novice amateur or a pro, he
would support everyone in the gym. If a gym fighter had a fight
he would move heaven and earth to be there to support them and
actively encouraged everyone to do the same, which they did
after all they were Team Frazier and proud of it.
Joe and Marvin posing in
Being full time at the gym I also started to discover other
elements of this great man, even though he barely had two
halfpennies to rub together, he was an extraordinarily generous
man who would help anyone in need.
One example of Joe’s generosity and willingness to help anyone.
A young lad was involved in the gang scene in LA and had been
shot and seriously injured. A trainer friend of Joe’s called him
to tell him about the youngster, saying that if he doesn’t get
away from LA he’ll be dead within the year.
Photographer Mary Ann Owen
sent a Photo of Frazier, doing what he loved to do and that was
Joe didn’t hesitate and soon arranged for the lad to move to
Philly and train at his gym. The youngster soon became one of
the stars of the Frazier gym amateur squad. In return the lad
repaid Joe’s faith in him by giving his time willingly and
helping the younger lads at the gym prepare whenever he could,
as did all the Frazier fighters, they knew that’s what Joe did
In early February 2008 Joe asked me to arrange a fundraising
event for one of his fighters, Faatimah Balmer, who had just
made the regional's of the Golden Gloves. Joe said that he would
attend and personally sign gloves etc. for those that attend.
Unfortunately on the night Joe was unable to attend, but
supplied various pairs of signed gloves to auction on the night.
The following morning Joe being Joe, felt so bad that he hadn’t
made it on the night, asked me to contact the bar, that had
given over their premises for the fund raiser, to let them know
that he would be coming there that evening to personally thank
That’s Joe for you here we are on the 15th February, just a few
days before he goes into hospital for a major operation, and he
felt it was the honourable thing to go and make a personal
appearance. He didn’t just pop in either Joe, Marianne and
myself were there for almost two hours, during which Joe spent
almost every second talking with, as well as signing autographs
for, everyone there that evening.
Even during his time in hospital Joe kept his finger on the
pulse, metaphorically speaking, and would ring up to find out
how the fighters were doing, as well as check everything was
with myself. There’s us worrying about his health yet there’s
him worrying about us!
Just over a month after Joe came out of hospital a decision was
made by Joe and his personal manager to close the gym, due to
the mezzanine that housed the changing rooms partially
Despite the fact that Marvis managed the gym, Joe personally
rang all the fighters and staff to inform them of the closure. I
can’t speak for the others but when he rang me he was so
apologetic, he was clearly choked up and thanked me for all I
had done for him, the fighters and the gym.
We had kept in regular contact until Marianne and I returned to
the UK in 2009, but since then we had only spoken occasionally.
These are just a few of the fondest of memories I have from the
time I spent with Joe, Marvis and the rest of Team Frazier. Joe,
and Marvis, inspired both Marianne and myself. But it was Joe’s
belief in us, as well as his encouragement, that has seen us
both pursuing Boxing based careers.
Finally I would like to say, my fond memories of Joe and the
kindness and support he showed Marianne and myself will stay
with me until the day I am also laid to rest.
God Bless and Rest In Peace Joe.