An intimate portrait of Joe Frazier, whose ferocious rivalry with Muhammad Ali made them both boxing legends and cultural touchstones for an era.
Just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Fight of the Century (Ali–Frazier I), Sparring with Smokin’ Joe provides a penetrating, at times brutally candid, look at legendary champion Joe Frazier. Glenn Lewis spent several months in the gym, on the road, and in verbal tussles with Frazier in 1980, when Frazier was at a crossroads in his life and career. Lewis recounts Frazier’s candid takes on his still-recent Hall-of-Fame career, wars with Ali, and hard-scrabble roots. Frazier also reflects on Ali’s upcoming comeback fight against Larry Holmes, his own possible return to the ring, preparing his son Marvis for a pro boxing debut, and the impact of racial tensions and cultural upheaval on his fighting legacy.
Sparring with Smokin’ Joe reveals compelling, never-before-heard anecdotes that give new insight into the usually private Frazier, including how Ali’s verbal attacks on Frazier alienated him from his own people and continued to trouble him long after retiring from the ring. An intimate portrait of a legendary fighter, Sparring with Smokin’ Joe finally shares Frazier’s side of an unforgettable rivalry.
Glenn Lewis is director of journalism at York College, CUNY, and professor of print journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. The veteran journalist and author has written about sports, health, media, and societal trends. He has waited four decades to write Sparring with Smokin’ Joe about his time with the iconic heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Lewis has also been an on-air media and journalism expert for Fox 5 TV-News. He lives in New York City with his wife and has two grown daughters.
Chapter One: Up in Joe’s Lair
Chapter Two: Down with the Gym Rats
Chapter Three: Return to Black Roots
Chapter Four: More than the White Man’s Champion
Chapter Five: Ali’s Tap Dance and Frazier’s Flying Circus
Chapter Six: Lessons on Beating a Bear
Chapter Seven: In the Shadow of Champions
Chapter Eight: Bumpy Roads to Olympic Glory
Chapter Nine: The Fraziers Go Pro
Chapter Ten: (Mis)managing Marvis
Chapter Eleven: Smokin’ Joe and the Ali Wars
Chapter Twelve: Ali and Frazier on the Comeback Trail
Epilogue: Ain’t Nothing but a Party
About the Author
There is no shortage of material in boxing literature about the epic rivalry of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but most of those accounts center on Ali. This compelling blend of reportage and narrative nonfiction changes the focus to Frazier, delving into his career in the ring and his life after his third fight with Ali, the iconic "Thrilla in Manilla," as well as exploring the brief boxing career of Frazier's son Marvis. Drawing on interviews conducted by journalist Lewis with Joe, Marvis, and others in the Frazier entourage in 1980, the book offers insightful portraits of both father and son, capturing not only Joe's love for Marvis, but also the former heavyweight champion's arguable mismanagement of his son's career by attempting to force the younger Frazier into adopting the same kind of brawling, ever-advancing approach that defined Joe's style. Along the way, Lewis reprises the high and low points in Joe's own career, offering a convincing argument that Frazier should have been awarded the decision in his second Ali bout and sensitively describing the effects on Frazier of Ali's cruel taunting of his rival, especially the absurd claim that Joe was an "Uncle Tom." This Maileresque combination of personal reflection, boxing analysis, and sports biography is a must read for fight fans, especially those whose understandable idolatry of Ali have kept them from seeing Frazier as a notably complex, generous, and loving man.
In this fascinating account . . . Lewis charts Frazier’s rise from southern farm boy to 1964 Olympic heavyweight boxing champion, and argues that the Frazier-Ali rivalry that followed was arguably “the greatest individual rivalry in all of sports.” . . . Lewis’s access to Frazier’s family, meanwhile, offers insight into the fighter’s personal life and his influence on his son . . . Lewis brings a painstaking level of detail to his breakdown of the famous rivalry. This is a knockout.
Even if you're not a boxing fan, you'll love this sizzling book. It’s a real eye opener into the lives and minds of two great fighters and the people around them, with never-before-known nuggets. Relive ‘The Fight of the Century’ and their two other venomous brawls. Go down to ringside with Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, and even Burt Lancaster. Spectacularly human and a real page-turner.
Not only is Sparring with Smokin’ Joe one of the best books having to do with Frazier, and hence his trilogy with Ali, but one of the better boxing books of recent years, a testament to the reporting of Lewis, a director of journalism at York College and professor of print journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
Fighting, family, race, resilience, and the ever-looming presence of Muhammad Ali -- Glenn Lewis provides full context for this intimate portrait of the great Joe Frazier. Lewis views Frazier with clear eyes and genuine heart. In these pages, we feel the fire that burned within Smokin' Joe.
Glenn Lewis delivers some unforgettable action-packed rounds of storytelling: The complicated, but loving tale of a father and a son. The long, bitter rivalry of a boxing great and The Greatest. The rollicking ride of a young sportswriter and a superstar athlete on the cusp of his twilight years. But what lands most indelibly, with the power of a patented Frazier left hook, is a portrait of an underappreciated American legend who never gave up in the ring or beyond, and always came out smokin’.
Although he ranks among the greatest professional boxers, Joe Frazier never seemed to escape the glow of his charismatic nemesis, Muhammad Ali. Their rivalry was psychological as well as physical, and lasted long after they left the ring. In this remarkable on-the-scene account, Glenn Lewis creates a memorable, sensitive portrait of Smokin’ Joe. It’s a father-son story, a story of pride, courage, deep faith, resentment, defeat and victory. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to love this book.
Glenn Lewis gives us one smokin' page after another in taking us through the boxing life of one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever, Smokin' Joe Frazier, and of his unparalleled rivalry with Muhammad Ali.
[A] a must-read for Frazier fans and a solid plus for most boxing libraries.... Fifty years after his biggest triumph, Joe Frazier remains a compelling topic in the discourse of sociological significance. This well written tribute does him plenty of justice.
Joe Frazier was always overshadowed by Muhammad Ali, in the ring and out, but his gifts as a fighter have been getting more appreciation in recent years. Now, with Glenn Lewis’s Sparring with Smokin’ Joe, readers get a glimpse of why Frazier was equally memorable as a man—one for whom life, knockdowns and all, remained “nothing but a party.
When one thinks of Joe Frazier, your mind immediately turns to his rivalry with Muhammad Ali. They both became boxing legends and cultural touchstones for an era, and this book comes just as we arrive at the fiftieth anniversary of the Fight of the Century (Ali-Frazier I). Sparring with Smokin' Joe is a penetrating, and at times brutally candid, look at Frazier.
11/4/20: Library Journal included this book in the prepub alert feature, “Chasing One’s History: Memoir Previews, May 2021.”
2/10/21, 1010WINS : The Author was interviewed on the show On the Marc about the book and Frazier.
2/4/21: The author was featured on the So Booking Cool YouTube channel.
2/24/21, BoxingScene featured the book and said, “Not only is Sparring with Smokin’ Joe one of the best books having to do with Frazier, and hence his trilogy with Ali, but one of the better boxing books of recent years….”
2/23/21, SUM/CUNY: The author and book are mentioned in this article.
3/5/21, The Ring: A Q&A with author Lewis provides insight into boxing history and the book.
9/1/21, Booklist: This book was included as a "Top 10 Sports and Recreation: 2021" Editor Pick.