Nothing came easy for Joe Frazier, the youngest of 12 children whose family worked as sharecroppers in a sleepy South Carolina town near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Frazier took up boxing as a youngster after his family would watch weekly boxing matches on their television. Frazier dropped out of school at age 13 and two years later was sent to Philadelphia to live with an older brother and took a job in a slaughterhouse.
Despite a left arm that was hobbled by a childhood injury that did not heal properly, Frazier boxed his way through the amateur ranks, winning three Golden Gloves championships and eventually traveling to the U.S. Olympic Trials for the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. He lost a decision in the finals to Buster Mathis, but made the trip to Tokyo as an alternate.
As luck would have it, Mathis broke a knuckle during training, so Frazier gained entry to the heavyweight tournament, where he scored two knockouts, stopped his opponent in the second round of the semifinal – becoming the only American boxer to advance that far in the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games — and then edged out German Hans Huber with a 3-2 decision in the gold medal bout.
As a professional, Frazier compiled a 32-4-1 record and his bouts against 1960 gold medalist Muhammad Ali were among the greatest in boxing history. Frazier held the world heavyweight championship from 1970 to 1973.
Frazier passed away in 2011 from liver cancer. He was 67.