Pro boxing legend Larry Holmes said he felt like he was in a cloud when he heard the news that former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier succumbed to liver cancer on Monday.
"Joe and me, we were buddies until the day he died," Holmes said on Wednesday while taking a brief break from working on his new restaurant on Canal Street in Easton, Pa. "In fact, I talked to him three or four weeks before that. He told me what was going on. I said, 'I'm coming down to see you,' and he said. 'No, you don't want to,' and I said 'OK."'
Everyone knows that Holmes' career launched big time after he served as a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, but he also worked as a sparring partner for Frazier before the second Ali-Frazier fight that took place Jan. 28, 1974 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
"I was with Ali first," said Holmes, who reigned as heavyweight champion for more than seven years from 1978 through 1985, "but I was with Joe for the second Ali fight."
Holmes, a then-unknown budding heavyweight, showed up at Ali's Deer Lake Camp in 1971 and soon found himself employed by Ali. Seeking to further his career aspirations, he worked for other heavyweight champs, including "Smokin"' Joe Frazier. In fact, Ali, Frazier and Holmes are considered the preeminent heavyweight champions of their day.
"I did my job. With Frazier," Holmes said, "and he treated me right. We sparred. We went running together. He'd pick me up to go running. We'd have lunch together, dinner together. He was a stand-up guy. My relationship with him was great. He gave me the opportunity to work, and from then on, we were great friends."
Just as Holmes was proud to call Easton home, Frazier was proud to call Philadelphia home. But just as Holmes didn't always feel the love from Easton, Frazier didn't always feel the love coming back from Philly.
"I get (ticked) off because people didn't recognize Joe for spending millions and millions of his own money in Philadelphia," Holmes said. "He did it for the underprivileged kids, for the charities, and when he got done boxing and needed some help, nobody there helped him
"He built a gym and they took that away from him. He built a house and they took that away from him. They never even put up a statue for him, but they did for Rocky, and he wasn't even real. Joe did fantastic things in Philadelphia and they didn't do anything for him. They didn't appreciate him."
Boxing lovers in the late 1960s and 1970s appreciated Frazier's left hook, a pulverizing punch he developed as a boy while sawing trees with his father. His father lost his left arm due to a shooting incident, and Frazier would be the left hand on a two-handed saw, working his left arm back and forth while his father worked the right arm.
Frazier's other ultimate act of machismo was to always move forward. He would take one or two and sometimes three shots from an opponent just so that he could get into position to punish them with that powerful left hook. His style would later become the prototype for the ferocious Mike Tyson.
Fighters today don't use that same methodology because of all that is known about traumatic brain injuries and post-concussion syndrome and its association with physical maladies like dementia and Parkinson's disease.
"You're never the same after any fight," Holmes admitted, "but you're willing to take those chances and whatever happens, happens. I took my chances. Ali took his chances. Joe took his chances, and whatever came out, came out."
Frazier, who will be remembered mostly for his three legendary fights with Ali, was more revered by his peers and by the fans than he will ever be by history. And he will always be remembered fondly by Holmes as a man who was willing to reach out to others, even young, upcoming fighters.