SI Vault
February 22, 1971
"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
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February 22, 1971

I Got A Surprise For Clay

"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

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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.

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