(6 of 10)
Frazier's mother was "a real church-goin' lady" who taught him "respectafulness," but he began questioning things that black kids were not supposed to question. Nicknamed Billy, supposedly because he could hit like a billy club, he was soon getting into scrapes with the Man. Once when he was 14, a white man called him nigger. Joe called the man cracker. As Joe recalls it now, "The man said, 'Come here, boy, and I'll straighten you out.' I told him, 'You come here,' and he did and, man, I straightened that fella out." Mamma—who forbade him to play football because she thought it was too dangerous—had a talk with Joe. "Son," she said, "if y'all can't get along with the white man in the South, y'all better leave home." Joe quit school, hitchhiked to Charleston and caught "the first thing smokin' that was goin' north." He's been smokin' ever since.
Crippling the Town
Cassius Clay hung around Louisville long enough to graduate 376th in a high school class of 391. Then he flew to Rome for the 1960 Olympics, won a Gold Medal as a 178-lb. light heavyweight, and returned home to a reception that "crippled the town." He bought a "rosy pink" Cadillac on time, signed up with a syndicate of wealthy white businessmen, and turned pro. He was 18.
Frazier settled in Philadelphia with dreams of "a lot of money, a new car and fine clothes." He took a job as a utility butcher in a kosher slaughterhouse and saved his money. Then he sent for his 15-year-old childhood sweetheart, married her and moved into a ghetto apartment. He ballooned up to 235 Ibs., so he went to a neighborhood Police Athletic League gym to pare off some weight. There he came under the paternal eye of a sometime fight manager named Yancey Durham, who recalls that Joe looked just like any other fat boy. One thing, however, was different: "He had determination."
Under Durham's tutelage, Joe had 40 amateur fights and lost only one, to a 300-lb. behemoth named Buster Mathis in the 1964 Olympic trials. When Mathis suffered an injury, Joe went to Tokyo in his stead and won the heavyweight Gold Medal—even though he had to fight through three rounds of his final match with a broken thumb. Returning home penniless and with a heavy cast on his hand, he was unable to work for six months and had to live off his wife's $60-a-week salary as a factory worker. In desperation, he took a job as a janitor in the aptly named Bright Hope Baptist Church of North Philadelphia. The pastor, it happened, had some wealthy acquaintances. Through his intercession, a syndicate called Cloverlay Inc., headed by F. Bruce Baldwin, a Horn & Hardart executive, was set up to finance Joe's professional boxing career. He was 21.
Clay knocked out twelve of his first 15 opponents. Then, in a moment of inspiration, for his next match with Archie Moore he unburdened himself of a little doggerel:
I'll say it again, I've said it before,
Archie Moore will fall in four.