Joe Frazier died of liver cancer earlier this week, at the age of sixty seven.
One of the greatest heavyweight boxers who ever lived, he worked hard to get Muhammed Ali’s boxing license re-instated, after “the greatest” refused to be drafted into the Vietnam war.
Ali’s much maligned (at the time) proclamation, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong” is now legendary. Much of America hated him for it—because he was cocky, black, Muslim, and deemed unpatriotic.
It was Joe Frazier who wore the crown of undisputed heavyweight champion while Ali was in exile, after Frazier knocked out Ali’s old buddy, Jimmy Ellis. Frazier was helping the Louisville lip who desperately wanted to reclaim what he felt was rightfully his.
Yet at the same time, Frazier had also worked deservedly for the title he held. They took a long car ride together (the champ and the exiled champ) while Ali recorded their conversation for a book he was penning on his life.
Frazier was gracious enough to answer Ali’s questions, even when Ali peppered him constantly with “Wouldn’t you be afraid of me in the ring?” taunts, as they drove along the freeway in Smokin’ Joe’s car.
Frazier was also good enough to agree to a staged street altercation between the two great fighters in Philadelphia—one that Ali hoped would create a typhoon of demand for an eventual fight between Ali and Frazier.
With Frazier on top of the world, he didn’t have to acquiesce to Ali’s games, but he did.
When the fight eventually took place, in 1971, it was the first time two undefeated heavyweight champions had ever squared off.
And in the end, it was Frazier who eventually knocked Ali off his feet, and won the unanimous decision. He didn’t knock Ali out, however (no fighter ever did) and Ali eventually went on to beat Frazier in two later contests.
That fight, back in 1971, paid each boxer $2.5 million.
Out of the kitty, Joe Frazier would have paid his managers and handlers, as well as the taxman, but it’s safe to say that Joe Frazier pocketed more in that single evening than I’ve earned in my entire working lifetime.
So why did Joe end up relatively broke?
Frazier went on to earn combined purses over the rest of his career that dwarfed $2.5 million. Yet he spent his last years living above a gym, training young fighters, and living in relative penury.
I’ll admit that I’m a huge fan of the 1960s and 1970s boxing era. At one point, I may have read everything published on Ali and Frazier. When I read Ali’s autobiography (for the third time) I was in a college geography class, trying to read and simultaneously take lecture notes.
But the fact that I was in the class at all, instead of re-living the rumble in the jungle, reveals (in part) why I think the great Joe Frazier lived his last years without money.
I didn’t skip that Geography class—and I rarely skipped college classes—because I was paying for my own education. I’m not suggesting that every parent should ensure that their kids pay for college, but if students pay for some of their educational expenses, they stand a slimmer chance of ending up like Joe Frazier.
Money wasn’t easy for me to earn, so I respected it.
But it was easy for Frazier. So he, I believe, disrespected it.
You might argue that offering your face for a George Foreman grilling isn’t “easy money” but guys like Joe Frazier would have been doing the same thing if the wages were one twentieth of what they were.
Frazier was a warrior—perhaps the most prideful fighter the world had ever seen. Watch the man, even when he’s getting pounded to a pulp (as Foreman did to him twice) and you’ll notice, unnervingly, that the man kept marching forward between barrages of soul destroying blows.
The money came easily to Frazier. He did was he was meant to do, and made a killing doing it.
Then he wasted the money, as so many other athletes (and lottery winners) do.
With 60% of NBA basketball players going broke within five years of their retirement, they add to the statistics of professional athletes making gobs of money—then wasting it. Drunkenly setting money on fire, they also attract human leeches who coax cash from the hands of naive athletic spendthrifts.
With such an entourage sucking Ali’s every resource, it’s a miracle that he didn’t fall with Frazier, against the fiscal ropes.
Smokin’ Joe ended up broke for the same reason former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield ended up scraping the barrel of bankruptcy: money simply came too easily to them. And they had no idea how to manage it.
Not all athletes who earn millions will end up broke. And not every kid who gets a free ride through college will disrespect money enough to financially underperform.
But, as I mention in my book, Millionaire Teacher, easy money often precipitates wasted money.
Rest in peace Joe Frazier. Always your fan…