Boxing icon Joe Frazier in hospice care after liver cancer diagnosis

PHILADELPHIA — During his boxing career, Leslie Wolff said Joe Frazier never stopped fighting.

And Wolff said he has no reason to think he’ll stop now.

On Saturday afternoon, it was confirmed that the former heavyweight champion and Philadelphia boxing icon was in serious condition after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

“We’re looking for some miracles,” said Wolff, Frazier’s business manager. “When you’re dealing with the Big C, it’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

The 67-year-old Frazier was diagnosed a month ago and is currently in hospice care in Philadelphia. He was living in a Center City apartment complex.

“He’s under medical care, getting his treatments that hopefully will help,” said Wolff. “It’s extremely serious, I’m asking everyone to pray for him.”

In a career that sprawled almost 20 years, Frazier recorded a 32-4-1 record. He went on to win two heavyweight titles, while facing off against the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Jerry Quarry.

He’s best known for his series of bouts with Ali during the 1970’s.

Frazier won their first meeting in 1971 at Madison Square Garden by decision. It was billed “The Fight of the Century” and an estimated 300 million people worldwide tuned into the fight via closed-circuit television.

“The Vietnam War stopped for several hours so the military could listen,” said Wolff. “Troubles between the Protestants and Catholics in Belfast stopped so the Irish could see it. This man is an important figure in history.”

Ali and Frazier went on to fight twice more; once at the Garden and later in Manila, Philippines.

A native of South Carolina, Frazier moved to Philadelphia. He started his career by rattling of 29 straight wins before losing his heavyweight title and undefeated record in 1973 to George Foreman by knockout.

More than just a ferocious puncher, Frazier was a humble man, said longtime friend and Philadelphia promoter Joe Hand Sr.

Hand grew close with Frazier after the boxer returned from winning a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

A former city police officer, Hand had bought a share of stock in Cloverlay Inc., a group formed by Philadelphia businessmen to help propel Frazier’s career. Now the owner of the world’s largest distributor of closed-circuit boxing matches, Hand said he owes the whole thing to Frazier.

“If it wasn’t for Joe Frazier, I’d probably be a retired policeman sitting in Wildwood someplace,” said Hand. “I owe it all to Joe.

Wolff recalled Frazier being an athlete who doesn’t have an ego.

If he was scheduled for an autograph signing for one hour, he’d stay for five. When fans would rush toward Frazier, he’d tell his handlers to let it be.

“He didn’t have an ego, he didn’t think he was better than anyone else,” said Wolff. “He just thought he worked hard and in my mind he’s one of the finest role models I had ever seen.”

In the ring, Frazier was as tough as any. Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield said Frazier was someone he looked up to as he idolized what he called “the Joe Frazier style.”

“He would put that relentless pressure on guys,” said Holyfield, who also won Olympic Gold. “He wouldn’t give up and he was able to take your shot and put something on you.”

And promoting Frazier was an easy task. Bill Caplan, who promoted Frazier’s 1976 rematch with Foreman, said the fighter was up for anything.

To coincide with the Bicentennial, Caplan had asked Frazier to wear a Ben Franklin costume for a television spot. Not a problem.

“Whatever we wanted to do within reason, he would do it,” said Caplan. “I just remember shooting the commercials and he was a lot of fun to work with.”

Wolff said that along with a feature full-length movie on Frazier’s life, they are working with the city on a statue of the boxer.

Breen reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer.