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Original Issue


"I'm a small piece of leather but I'm well put together, and nobody commands me.... I don't see how he can survive, unless he runs." So says Joe Frazier in a rare interview with Morton Sharnik

Two million dollars and change is a lot of gold. That's no lie. But this fight means more to me than the money. The fight itself is that important. When I first started out, money was the thing. That's why a man turns pro—it ain't enough to be good, he wants to get paid for it.

Before Clay and this fight came up, I had that taken care of. I've got money put away so my kids can go to college. There's enough so when they come around and tell me they want new clothes, or music lessons, or "Daddy, I want a motorcycle," I don't have to say sorry, we can't afford it. I won't have to listen to them say, "How come, Daddy? You were a big fighter, you made a lot of money. What happened to all the cash?" But most men, when they start out, have goals. I mean, they going to do this and going to do that. Well, from the beginning, Clay has been the man. The one I wanted to beat. You're never sure you'll ever get there, get to the Big One, but I have. All the goals have been met and now there's one left—Cassius Clay. And I got him March 8th.

From the beginning, this is the fight I wanted. That's all I heard when I was coming up—Clay's this and Clay's that, Clay's the man. When I came from the Olympics he told me, "Come on up, work hard and I'll make you rich." You know what? I came up, I got rich and he got poor. Now I'm making him rich. Ain't that something? I mean, he ought to kiss me. I got him back in the fight game and got him two-and-a-half million dollars besides.

It's funny how life turns. If it weren't for me he wouldn't be a fighter today. He wouldn't have no reason to tie the gloves back on. But all that time he couldn't fight, I kept him alive. I would never say anything bad about him, regardless of what he stands for. If anybody ask me, I have nothing but good to say about him. I tell 'em his religion is his belief. That's his right.

Still, I say he's a loudmouth. He makes a bunch of noise. But I don't see why he wants to talk that I'm a Tom, that I don't stand up for the black man. Sure I stand up for the black man. But the most important thing, I stand up for Joe Frazier. That's where it all begins, each man standing up for himself and looking after his family.

Clay, he makes me laugh. What do he know about hard times? Bigmouthing and loud talk, yeah he's an expert on that, but hard times—that's something else. At least in boxing, everything has been easy for him. He had a white man in the corner and those rich plantation people to back him. A white lawyer kept him out of jail. And he's going to Uncle Tom me. Now, I have a black man as a manager and both white and black people in the group backing me. But long before there was anybody, there was Joe Frazier, working hard, making it on his own. Ever since I came up from the South, in 1961 or '62, I had a steady job. Most of the time it was in the slaughterhouse, hard, long work. Sometimes I had three or four jobs. I got married young, had kids and wanted to take care of them. I wanted to be somebody. Make something of myself. So I'd go to work 4:30 in the morning, work until 6 at night, then go into the gym. Often I'd run at night after I got through. Trying to get my body in shape, sacrifice so as I could make it. I neglected my family a lot, but it was for a good cause, for me and for them.

When I go to training camp, I go to training camp—nothing gets in my way. I've always pushed myself. Like most of my strength came to me long before I began to box. If something was hard, why I'd just make it a little harder, more complicated so that I'd put more in and get more out. That's how I've always trained for fights. Like now I should be really working with three guys maybe three rounds. I don't want to kill myself—leave the fight in the gym—but I want to make things that much more difficult for myself, so when I get to the real thing it will be that much more easy for me. Instead of going three rounds, I'm boxing eight. That is why I perform good in the ring. I work so hard in camp, and punish myself, and then when the bell rings I'm ready. I'm turned on. I hit the smallest speed bag, a peanut bag. No heavyweight uses one that small, and I can run it as long as I want. I roll it, potshot and move it. Everything I do is at speeded-up tempo, to my rock-music time.

I'm going to be in shape for this fight. I'm going to be ready, and I'm going to whup him. That's what this fight will be all about—conditioning. And there's no way he's going to be in better shape than me. Conditioning, that's my thing. But for him to win he'd have to be in much better shape than me, because he has to do two things: 1—move backwards, 2—fight. Me, I only have to fight. It's that simple.

But that ol' Clay is crazy. He's something else. He goes around the country, preaching that so-called black talk. He's a phony. You know what I mean. He calls people ugly. Now what do that have to do with anything? We didn't make ourselves—God made us.

Well, that cat is something else. But he's falling into the same trick bag as all those other guys I fought. Clay says he going to do this to me and do that to me. He's been talking this jive—now he's going to jab me silly. Clay's going to find out one thing. He can't hit with that jab as easy as he think he can. He can throw it. I don't wanna stop him from throwing it, but I can stop it when I want to. If I don't beat him to the punch, then I'll slip it. I'm not going to get away from all of them, you know what I mean. If I have to take a couple of them, sure. But I'm not going to let him bang me around like a punching bag. If he think that, he got another thought. No, it ain't going to be easy. He's good and I'm good, and that's what fights should be about. Me or him.

Now I got a surprise for him. The rest of the guys play me cheap. You know, Joe Frazier's a toy. Wind him up and he goes. You see, I laugh, I smile, I don't get evil and I don't get mean. So they think I'm a joke, until—until I climb through the ring. Outside, I look easy. That's always the way. I mean, until you get in with a guy, you always put down the problems. You see difficulties, but at the same time you see yourself overcoming. In the ring it's something else.

I don't look fast until I'm chasing the man himself. Then I must be fast, faster than I look, because I always get my man. That's the way it's always been—it must be that I look easy. Mathis was going to outbox me, Ellis was going to outslick me and Quarry—well, Quarry was going to outgut me. They was all wrong, but Quarry was a fool. He played my game. He tried to do my thing, and that is a mistake, because that's the way I live, the way I've brought myself up.

If I was Clay, I'd look at the Mathis fight. If there's a way to fight me—that's it. Buster, he fought a good fight, long as he could. But me and Yank Durham had it figured right on the nose. I stayed with Buster all the way. The idea was to keep on top of him, smother his power. Sure, I made some mistakes. Sometimes I wasn't close enough, and like Buster nailed me with good shots. But I was ready, my body could take the punishment, and I kept at him. And that didn't do him no good. I let Buster box and I let Buster run and then I slow-walked him, and finally he was there ready to be taken out. The Mathis plan was right, the only thing wrong—a big man can't run backwards for 15 rounds, not even for five rounds steady running.

Yeah, it was a good fight for Buster, but a better fight for me. Until then everybody said I was a one-handed fighter, but I showed them. The punch I knocked Buster into the ropes with was a right hand. I think it was sometime in the 11th or 12th round. You know, I forget how long the fights go. But I hit him with some right hooks and I out-jabbed him in spots. That's something else people claimed I can't do. But I have a good jab, a stiff one. Mine, I step in and punch. You see, it ain't how long your arm is, but your timing and position. There'll be times when I'll outjab Clay, but I'll pick the spots.

The biggest jump for me was Eddie Machen. That's when I knew I was coming on. For nine hard rounds I was in with a tough, smart boxer, and still I kept punching and punching until Machen went in the 10th round. Machen had gotten by all the good young fighters on the Coast, all the ones SPORTS ILLUSTRATED wrote about in that story on the young top heavyweights. Yeah, Machen, he was slick but I beat him. All those guys—where are they now? 1 was rated practically last, and I remember the story said I was a one-arm, predictable fighter and I probably would never get out of the gym. Now ain't that something? I guess the magazine was wrong. But so were a lot of other people, and most of them were my opponents. But they know better now. Quarry was looking for my left hand, but I hit him with right uppercuts. That taught him different. I mean, Quarry learned that I could fool a man, that I could fight different than he expected.

In the first round, I played possum with Quarry. I covered up and let him take his best shot, and I watched him. I took no chances, and he found I wasn't so easy to tag with solid punches. A lot of them I blocked or slipped. Then in the second round, I came out and asked Quarry, "You through? 'Cause I'm going to work. It's my turn." I talked to him all during the fight and I told him, "Jerry, I'm going to kill you."

I talk to all the guys in the ring. It's like this—outside, before the fight, they have their time. During the fight, that's mine. I have something to say to all of them. During the fight with Ellis, when Ellis hit me a good punch, I asked him, "Come on, sissy, is that as hard as you can hit?" Later, when he was missing and missing, I asked him, "What's the matter, can't you find me?" See, Jimmy, too, thought I'd be easy to hit.

Buster, I talked to all the time. I said, "Come on, sucker, I got something for you." I called Buster a Tom 'cause he would never speak for himself. Now I'll talk to Clay. He thinks he can talk, I'll show him something. I'll lay it on him. I'll be talking all during the fight. Sometimes I might even laugh. That's no fooling. I do that often. No, I'm not putting anybody on, that's just the way I feel. It's like when a guy hits me with his best shot and I don't hardly feel it, then it comes to me—this cat laid a good one on me. So I laugh. I mean, it's kind of hard to explain, but it has to do with a feeling of confidence, of knowing that all the hard work, all the training stood up.

Probably I could always take a punch. If not, then I couldn't have survived Bonavena and Ramos. It's not that I have a steel head or nothing, but I condition myself for it. Every day I soak my head in rock salt and water. Who-e-e-e, does that make me mean. But that toughens my skin, and maybe it works on the bones. All I know is you look at Clay and then look at me. He's been cut over one eye and someplace around the lip. It looks to me like he had maybe 13 stitches. Well I have none.

It's got so now I feel as if I can't be knocked out. Sure, I know that's a strange thing to say, but that's how I feel. I've been hit with some real good shots, good right hand by Bonavena in the first fight and another one by Ramos, but since then I've gotten better and tougher—much better. I've got confidence, now. It's like this—I don't have to think what to do, I just do it. But if I'm tagged, my instinct is to move in on the other guy. This way, I smother his punches. I get in close, then they can't get to me and they don't know if I'm hurt. That's all conditioning—that's what does it.

Now they say Clay is going to challenge me, that he's bigger and stronger and punching hard. Well, I hope he does, but any man is crazy to try it. That's my thing. When they challenge me, that's it. My punches get an inspiration. I hit harder and fight better. I mean, that's what this boxing business is all about—just me and the other guy. That's when it's beautiful. When it's me or him. And Joe Frazier don't ever intend for it to be him. I just get this feeling—you got to go, instead of me.

It's like this. Most every time I step in the ring it seems like I'm challenged. I'm a short heavyweight, and these big guys are thinking and acting like they got the power over me. They command me. Well, see, I can't take that. I'm a small piece of leather but I'm well put together, and nobody commands me—nobody. That's when the feeling comes into my body.

Nobody gets stronger as the fight gets longer, but I pick it up as the fight goes along. The first round, I'm a little tight, and that's when you'll see the other guys doing his thing. Then as I go around, my legs and everything get looser. Look back over my fights and you'll see what I mean. Ellis, Quarry, Buster all had big first rounds, and that's the way it was the last time out with Bob Foster. In the second round I knock him out.

Now Clay's figuring to run. He thinks he can move for five, six, seven or eight rounds and then stick around and do what he wants to do after that. But I got a surprise for him. As long as he moves, I'll stay on him—if I don't do nothing but touch him every now and then just to let him know I'm there. Everywhere he goes in that ring, I'll be there. If he goes left, I'll be with him, and if he moves right—he won't lose me. No, man, he's in trouble. Because sometimes I'll be there to meet him. And if he tries to go side to side, it's no good. Maybe he's O.K. when he moves left, but when he comes right he has to stop and punch, and I'll be waiting, ready to smoke.

I can put pressure on a man and make him fight his own self. Make him throw punches and miss. That's how I did Ellis. Missing takes a lot out of a man. Let Clay ask his friend Jimmy Ellis. Actually, I don't punch until the other guy do, and then I beat him to the body. You see, I'm really a counterpuncher when I go to the body.

Now the ring ain't square like people from the outside think. It's round, but only so big when you're inside. That's what Clay is goin' to discover. First off, I cut the ring in half. Then I keep slicing until there's no room to run and there ain't nothin' to do but fight. I mean, I don't chase, I cut a man off. I'm going to keep cutting the ring on Clay—I'm going to make Clay fight. If he moves, it won't be 'cause he want to, but 'cause I'm making him. I don't see how he's going to survive—unless he runs. And if he does, there's only so long before he gives out. But that's his problem.

He's going to find out that Joe Frazier don't hurt easy and he don't discourage quick. I'm going to make the cat stay down to business. He can keep that pretty head, I don't want it. What I'm going to do is try to pull them kidneys out. I'm going to be at where he lives—in the body. Then I'll be in business, when I get smoking around the body. Watch him—he'll be snatching his pretty head back and I'll let him keep it. Until about the third or fourth round, and then there'll be a difference. He won't be able to take it to the body no more. Now he'll start snatching his sore body away, and then the head will be leaning in. That's when I'll take his head, but then it won't be pretty, or maybe he just won't care.

The man has troubles, I mean he has bad problems. He wants to be pretty as a woman. He wants to be good in his movements and he wants to be heavyweight champion of the world. No way he can do it. If that wasn't enough, the man has to be more famous than a politician, bigger 'n the President. He's the greatest, the biggest in everything he do, and no man can be all those things. He loudmouthed so long and bigtalked so much that he put himself in a box. You know what I mean? The man has to do or die. I think, he's going to die.

Now me, I just want to be the best at boxing. And I'm going to do my best. Give it all I got, do what I ever must to beat Clay. Now I don't like to think about it, 'cause it ain't going to happen. And I never talk about it. But if—if I lose, I'd walk away and never feel bad. I'll tell you why. Because I did all I could, there was nothing more to do. That's it. That's all a man can do.

No, I wouldn't want him back, because the challenge would be gone from boxing. So I'd just go on to somethin' else. Now Clay, what about him? What's he going to do? That's what I mean when I say I'm going to check his mind out. I'm going to put something on him. I'm going to smoke on the man, and what then? What's going to run through his mind when that happens? I think Clay feels something like this: I'm in his way and he has to push me aside. Now I tell you this: in his own mind the man isn't sure he can do it. I feel the same way—except I've been there before. You know what I mean? I've been to the bad wars. As a fighter, I'm together. I've proved I can take a punch, but what about Clay? Is he together- or will he come apart when I put something on him, when I start smoking where he lives? See what I mean?