I showed up a little earlier for the interview and had an opportunity to walk around Frazier’s gym and it was everything you think about when you envision a real boxing gym. Pictures of boxing legends grace the walls along with memorable pictures of Smoke’s career. Once Smoke (which is what he prefers to be called) arrived we sat down in his office which over looks the gym and this is the conversation that went down:BT: Smoke, thanks for taking time out today to talk with boxingtalk.com, what’s going on in your world these days?
Smoke: No problem, I’m just taking care of my gym and I have some future plans on the horizon.BT: Smoke, growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, you were brought up from humble beginnings, did you look at boxing as a way to give your family a better life?
Smoke: I looked at boxing as a way to one day help my parents. Living in Beaufort we didn’t have much, I would sometimes pack groceries for the Marine guys from Paris Island an earn $7 maybe $8 a day to help out.BT: Smoke, boxing has always had a black cloud over it due to some shady promoters, bad decisions, and unjustified rankings, do you believe a federal commission would bring back come dignity and respect to the sport?
Smoke: I wouldn’t necessarily say a Federal commission is the answer but new rules need to be implemented because with all of these different belts, I don’t know who the champ is in any division. How do you spell love? BT: L-O-V-E?
Smoke: No, it’s M-O-N-E-Y. It controls everything in boxing and the powers that be don’t want a Federal commission because that would take control away from them making money.BT: Your amateur career took you all the way to the 1964 Olympics where you won the gold medal in the heavyweight division. Upon your return to Philadelphia after winning the Gold the company Cloverlay was established to basically guide your career. My father, Ken Kennedy, worked for the Philadelphia Housing authority during this time and he told me that Cloverlay was responsible for establishing programs to benefit inner-city kids?
Smoke: Yes, we put on programs in the city for kids and I’ve managed a few fighters here and there but so many would come in, learn a few things, and leave, many of them showed no loyalty, it’s unfortunate. BT: It’s no secret the animosity between you and Muhammad Ali reached its boiling point before your 1971 bout, you both were guaranteed $2.5 million a piece, at the time the biggest purses in boxing history. How important was it for you that you won that fight after all of Ali’s verbal attacks and comments about you?
Smoke: I couldn’t understand for the life of me what this man had against me but he was infamous with calling people names before he fought them and he made the mistake of calling me a gorilla. Well guess what…. a gorilla ended up in the ring with him that night in 1971 and this gorilla knocked him out! (we shared a laugh after that comment)BT: My grandfather was a huge boxing fan and he is the one who sparked my interest in the sport. Can you tell us if there was someone in particular who sparked your interest in boxing?
Smoke: I was a big fan of Henry Armstrong in my younger day. I tried to emulate his style into my own fighting and it worked. If you look through my record most of the guys I fought never went the distance with me. BT: Smoke, on a scale from 1 to 10…10 being good, how would you rate today’s boxing talent?
( Both Smoke and I laugh hysterically after his Zero comment!) BT: In your professional career which stemmed from 1965 to 1981 your only losses stem from George Foreman and Muhammad Ali , who did you consider the tougher challenge looking back?
Smoke: I don’t consider any of my losses to Ali as losses. He may have won the two fights but I won the battles. As far as George is concerned I think he’s a great guy and he beat me, he beat me like I stole something from him. He was a brute.(laughs)BT: Smoke, in your opinion who are the top five fighters of all-time?
Smoke: 1. Joe Louis 2. Rocky Marciano, 3.Sugar Ray Robinson, 4.Floyd Patterson, 5.Eddie Machen. I’d like to add in Henry Armstrong too.BT: If you could give any amateur or professional fighter a few words of encouragement of what it takes to be a champion in the sweet science what would those words be?
Smoke: Honesty, Loyalty and Talent will take you all the way.BT: On behalf of Boxingtalk.com I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Smoke on boxing and life in general. This was my first interview ever…. and to be given the opportunity to speak with a legend like yourself is something this writer will cherish forever. Thank you and God Bless you Brotha!
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