Every night, in training for a fight or not, Joe Frazier reads his Bible. "That's the time when I can concentrate best," he says. His favorite is the Book of Judges, "because it's about war, and fighting puts me in mind of war. When I go into a ring I'm going to war. That's what a fight is. War. Everything I read I try to relate to my work."
The undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world, if you resist the claims of Muhammad Ali, shows no New Testament mercy to his adversaries, whether they be opponents in a real fight or just sparring partners in training. He smites them impartially hip and thigh, plodding into and through their punches with none of the style and grace of Ali but with a magnificent, single-minded determination to get close enough to the enemy so that his short arms can reach a vital spot. When he is within range of an opponent his fists pound away relentlessly, mostly to the body. Most boxers pull their punches against sparring partners. Not Joe Billy Frazier.
"The reason we don't have any white sparring partners in camp," he said one afternoon recently, "is that the white fellows don't stand up to the punishment. I'd just as soon have them. It doesn't make any difference to me, one way or another, whether they are black or white. But they do have to be able to take the punishment. It makes a bad habit to go easy on a sparring partner. You might start doing it in a real fight."
Frazier was training at Vacation Valley, a year-round resort in the Pocono Mountains near East Stroudsburg, Pa. Next week he takes on Bob Foster, the light-heavyweight champion who feels that his division is too limiting in both a financial and artistic sense. Frazier banged relentlessly away at all his sparring partners with what looked like full power, even down to the swift and slender Ray Anderson, who weighs 172 pounds to Frazier's 226 or so. He banged so hard that even Yancey Durham, the manager-trainer who discovered Frazier and developed his style, worried about Anderson's welfare. The two fighters stood head to head and punched away at each other, both yelling like karate choppers with every blow.
"Don't stay in there like that, Ray," Durham cautioned. "Move out."
Afterward, sweat beaded on his head, Frazier conceded that he pounded Anderson's body as hard as he could with the 16-ounce gloves. "It's not good for him," he said. "Sooner or later it's going to hurt his kidneys, and when the kidneys go, the legs are next."
Anderson took the next afternoon off, but at the following session he was back in the ring, getting his slim waist pounded raw by the fury of Frazier's blows. An observer got the impression that the Bible-reading champion was doing just what Jehovah would have admired in an Israelite.
"You're going to wind up with sore ribs," Durham admonished the light heavyweight. But Anderson, a happy man who dearly loves his work, already had sore ribs. That afternoon he went fishing on Echo Lake, caught a sunfish on a garden worm and thereby won a $5 bet from Durham, who had told him he could not possibly catch a fish.
Frazier does not fish.
"I don't like water." he explained. "When I was a small boy I saw another fellow swimming. He was doing the dog paddle, I guess, but I was too young to understand and I thought he was just floating. So I jumped in, too, and I must have gone down three times before he could get to me and haul me out."