Interview with Rev. Marvis Frazier: From Delivering Knockouts to Delivering Sermons! By Ken Hissner (Nov 28, 2009) DoghouseBoxing
Living just outside of Philadelphia while attending Whitemarsh Junior High Marvis Frazier starred in football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. Then one summer while in 9th grade he decided to go to his “pop’s” gym in North Philadelphia. He never looked back once George Benton started showing him how to box at the Joe Frazier Gym. He had a successful amateur career at 56-2 winning the 1979 Golden Gloves, Junior Heavyweight World title and the National AAU heavyweight title in 1980. “I had to beat Jimmy Clark, Tim Witherspoon and James “Bonecrusher” Smith,” said Frazier. “My only losses were to James Broad and Tony Tubbs. I thought I beat Tubbs,” he added.
Frazier and Broad would meet again in the pro ranks. “In the fight with Broad I got hit and the pain in the back of my neck was so bad I found myself on the canvas,” said Frazier. This would happen again in a sparring session with contender Jimmy Young, before being diagnosed as a pinched nerve. The sparring sessions at Frazier’s could be with his “pop”, the former world heavyweight champion or any number of top fighters. Philly has always been known for the “gym wars”.
“My pop had a dream about an airplane crash,” said Frazier. It was 1980 and the Olympic hopefuls were heading to Warsaw, Poland, for a team match. A dozen members of the team went to their deaths on that March day. Jimmy Clark and Davey Armstrong were not able to catch planes to get to the New York airport or they would have been among the victims. Two Philly fighters, Lonnie Young and Tyrone Clayton were not so lucky. Clayton had replaced Rob “Bam Bam” Hines, who would later become the IBF light middleweight champion. “Marvis was always nice to everyone. Cheerful and a good person,” said Hines. Team Frazier was one of the top teams in the country with Frazier, Hines, James Shuler, Charles Singleton and Roland Cooley.
“ Pop decided to sign me with Madison Square Garden since he had so many fond memories of fighting there,” said Frazier. “Pop told them to include James “Black Gold” Shuler. Shuler was a two-time Golden Glove, Pan Am Games champion and a member of the 1980 team that President Carter would not allow to compete in the Olympics. This writer always wondered about that move. I could see if they were from New York or Puerto Rican, but two black Philly fighters? They were both signed and I remember talking to Shuler’s dad, Paul, whom seemed tickled pink, about it at Frazier’s Gym. “Pop, would take over the training (from Benton) along with Val Colbert with me in the pros,” said Frazier. “Marvis was a good kid who listened to his dad. He was always in good shape, but small for a heavyweight,” said Marvin Stinson. Stinson was the 1976 AAU champion and team alternate to John Tate. He sparred Frazier and was a sparring partner for Larry Holmes for 13 years while having a career of his own.
Frazier turned professional September 12th of 1980 stopping Roger Troupe, 3-4-1, in the 3rd round, at the Felt Forum, in New York, while Shuler turned pro in Philly on the same night scoring a knockout. On Frazier’s card was a young Hector Camacho turning pro. On October 10th both boxers were on the same card at the Felt Forum with Frazier stopping Dennis Rivers, 1-0, in the 2nd round and Shuler winning a decision. The cards at the Felt Forum were filled with Spanish fighters.
It would be six months before Frazier would fight again, while the following month Shuler fought his final fight at the Forum. In April of 1981 Frazier won a 6 rounder over durable Melvin Epps, 5-4, who the previous month stopped Philly’s Kerry Judge, then 5-0, in the 1st round. A month later he would stop Steve Zouski, 21-1, in the 1st round on the Cooney-Norton card. The hand writing was on the wall. Neither fighter became favorites among the New York fans. For some unknown reason Frazier would never fight in Philly during his professional career. Atlantic City and Las Vegas would serve as “home base”.
Frazier’s next fight was his first bout in Las Vegas where he won a 6 rounder over tough Tongan Tony Pulu, 19-11-1. After another win in Vegas over Guy Casale, 14-2-3, he would make his Atlantic City debut scoring another knockout. In March of 1983 he traveled back to the home state of his parents, Joe and Florence, stopping Mike Cohen, 14-3, in Charleston, SC, in 2 rounds. The following month would be the rematch with Broad, 12-0, in Atlantic City, near Broad’s home in Wildwood. By this time Broad had 30 pounds on Frazier. “Let’s say it was my time for revenge,” said Frazier. He would take the decision over 10 rounds 6-3, and 5-4 (twice) improving his record to 9-0. Philly’s furniture dealer Joe Verne had taken over as his manager and matched him with Joe Bugner, 57-9-1, whom, “Pop” had defeated 10 years earlier in 1973, by decision. “It was a good fight,” said Frazier.
The next fight in question to this day was with just ten fights Frazier would be matched with WBC champion Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, 44-0. For Frazier it would be five months of preparation since his last bout. It would be the 17th title defense for Holmes. Including a title eliminator and winning the title to go along with those defenses were almost double how many fights Frazier had. With just two 10 rounder’s under his belt Frazier was a long shot in November of 1983. Rumors were it would be a million dollar payday. Holmes would receive 2 ½ million.
Holmes had the legendary Eddie Futch in his corner who was in the elder Fraziers corner in “The Thrilla in Manila”. Within 30 seconds of the bout Holmes pulled on the back of Frazier’s neck. Since referee Mills Lane did not warn him Holmes again grabbed Frazier this time with both hands on the back of his neck and threw him into the ropes. Holmes was never known as a clean fighter and knew Frazier had a neck operation from that pinched nerve. He looked for every advantage.
Holmes continued to use his sharp jab and “straight arm” jab to control the action looking much the larger of the two though only 20 pounds heavier. Frazier held his hands high trying to prevent Holmes from landing his jab. After using only the jab Holmes threw his first right hand, straight on the button that spun Frazier around landing face down. Holmes landed half a dozen more punches and was holding the top of Frazier’s head with his left hand and hitting him with several rights. Not once did the referee warn Holmes. Holmes, like he did in the Ali fight motioned the referee in, but never stopped punching. Three rights to the head and a left hook to the rib cage and the referee stepped in stopping the one sided fight at 2:57 of the 1st round.
Frazier’s management must have thought since Witherspoon did so well against Holmes in having but 15 fights, he could do the same with 10. He had the look of bewilderment walking toward “Pop” who probably wished he was in there instead of his son who was much too inexperienced to be in there with a fighter who had him outnumbered 44-10 in bouts. Its’ a wonder the fight was sanctioned. When Holmes was announced as the winner his entire corner had their head down knowing they had taken advantage of the “Frazier name” for a big payday. At 200, Frazier would be a cruiserweight today, and probably would have become a champion. “He was much faster than I thought he would be,” said Frazier. He only had 3 years and 10 fights of experience compared to 10 ½ years and 44 bouts that Holmes had.
Ten months later Frazier was in an 8 round semi to a New Jersey state title fight in Pennsauken at Halloran Plaza Hotel. He stopped David Starkey, 3-7, in 2:50 of the 1st round. Less than a month later on the rebuilding of his career he was in with the USBA cruiserweight champion Bernard Benton, 16-1-1, who was a future WBC cruiser title holder. In those days the division limit was 190 so it was a non title bout in Atlantic City. “He was good but I won almost every round,” said Frazier. 10-0 and 7-2 (twice) proved that on the scorecards. Just two months later at the end of 1984 he would travel to the United Kingdom to meet Nigeria’s Funso Banjo, 14-0. “He talked a lot of stuff before the fight,” said Frazier. The fight was not as close as the score that referee Harry Gibbs had of 98-97 Frazier.
In May of 1985 the veteran James “Quick” Tillis, 31-5, was brought in for Frazier in Reno. Frazier was given a standing 8-count in the 2nd round, but went on to win the decision, 98-91, 96-92 and 97-91 on the cards. Tillis had won 9 of his last 11 fights, losing to Witherspoon and Carl “The Truth” Williams. In September, the Cuban Jose Ribalta, 19-2-1, at 6:05 toward over Frazier at 6:00 and had lost a split decision to “Bonecrusher” Smith. It was in Atlantic City where Frazier had won his previous four bouts. Frazier won by majority decision. “I didn’t think the fight was that close,” said Frazier. He earned the win by scores of 6-4, 5-4 and 5-5. It would be his last fight in Atlantic City.
In February of 1986 his former amateur foe James “Bonecrusher” Smith, 15-4, would meet Frazier in Richmond, CA. Smith had 12 knockouts in those 15 wins with one being over UK’s Frank Bruno. He lost in the 12th to Holmes in a title bout and just lost a decision to Witherspoon in his previous fight for the NABF title. Giving away close to 30 pounds, Frazier would win a close decision 96-95 (twice) and 97-93 on the cards. This set the stage for a fight with young “Iron” Mike Tyson, 24-0, in Glen Falls, New York.
Tyson was walking back and forth prior to the start like a panther in anticipation of his prey. He had 24 fights in 2 years while Frazier was 16-1 in 4 years. Frazier landed the first punch, a jab, while Tyson came out throwing hooks switching from side to side. Frazier landed a left hook to the body, but Tyson forced Frazier up against the ropes landing a jab followed by an uppercut that had Frazier’s head up in the air. As his knees buckled he was hit with another right uppercut which had him out on his feet, while a jab and a left hook followed as he slumped to the canvas. Referee Joe Cortez stopped counting at 3 and waved it off at 0:30 of the 1st round.
Tyson to his credit went over to check on Frazier’s condition while he was still in a sitting position on the canvas. He then walked away and leaped in the air as his manager Jim Jacobs came over and calmed him down along with trainer Kevin Rooney. “I was surprised by his speed and he had more punching power than Holmes or Bonecrusher,” said Frazier. Tyson came over as Frazier got to his feet consoling him. Tyson was 3 fights and 4 months away from taking Trevor Berbick’s WBC title.
It would be 11 months before Frazier would resume his career again. It was at the Hilton, in Secaucus, New Jersey. This was a major step down from a championship fight in Las Vegas. He would easily stop Tom Fischer, 34-10, scoring 2 knockdowns with body punches in the 2nd round. Several months later Frazier would return to the same venue, winning a lopsided decision over Jersey City’s Robert Evans, 6-12-3, who was coming off back to back knockout losses to Tyrell Biggs and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. The handwriting was on the wall as Frazier’s career and hope for a title win were fading quickly.
Frazier would enter the ring one more time over a year later in August of 1988 in Tucson, AZ, against Philipp Brown, 30-2-2, who was coming in with an 8 fight winning streak including stopping Frazier’s cousin Rodney. His only losses were to Cooney and Bruno. Frazier would win the decision in 10 rounds. Frazier would never fight again. He ended his career at 19-2 (8). “I knew it was my last fight before I took it,” said Frazier.
In 1992 he was the US Boxing coach and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 1996. He would manage the Joe Frazier gym and train fighters including his sister Jackie “Sister Smoke” Frazier. All things have to come to an end sometimes and the Frazier gym closed in 2008. “It crushed me,” said Frazier.
The church and the fight game were always a great part of his life along with his family of course. In 2000 he was ordained, but lost his wife to cancer. “My fiancée, Pamela, is from Washington, D.C. He has two daughters, Tamyra, 24, and Tira, 22. “I have 2 ½ granddaughters, hopefully with a boy on the way,” said Frazier. A third generation of Frazier’s in the ring? He was “born again” at 16 and his religious beliefs have always made him strong in victory or defeat. I remember even after a loss saying “I want to give all the glory to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Today, he is the assistant pastor to David Pope at the New Life Christian Center, in DE. This writer once spoke at St. Paul’s Baptist Church where Frazier’s mother Florence attended. She has been a strong influence on him. He was also a member of Chuck Coulsen’s Prison Fellowship for over 10 years.
“He is a reverend and has a great testimony. He calls me every Christmas. I heard him speak and he is dynamic,” said Dave Tiberi. The former title challenger from Delaware knows Frazier well. Frazier does motivation speaking for churches, sports groups or corporate events. “When God opens a door, no man can shut it. When God closes a door, no man can open it,” said Frazier.
I asked if he had given thought to an offer Buddy Osborn had presented him with last year of helping with his “Rock Ministry” gym in the Kensington section of the city. “I’m in a transition period and have asked God for direction,” said Frazier. The younger Frazier always had the heart of a lion in the ring and with the love and respect he has for the Lord it should carry him through bigger storms than Holmes and Tyson. I have a feeling he will be back in the fight game in some way very soon.