While Joe was champion of the world, in 1970-73, Marvis was becoming a good athlete in wrestling, baseball, football and basketball. (Jacki is now at American University on a basketball scholarship.) Everyone figured Marvis would end up with a grant-in-aid in football or wrestling. That's definitely the way Florence had it planned. "She wanted me to go for that scholarship and leave boxing alone," says Marvis. "She said it was one thing to have her man in it but another thing to have her baby in it." But because Marvis had started to slip in his schoolwork, his parents sent him to Wyncote, a private school in a Philadelphia suburb, to improve his grades. There were no team sports at Wyncote, which Marvis attended for less than three months in the 10th grade before resuming his public-school education, at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High, and Marvis began looking for a physical outlet. And he just happened to know about this gym on Broad Street....
"I asked Pop if I could go down just to work out, and he said it was all right," Marvis says. "That's the first conversation we ever had about boxing outside of his own fights. I'm sure he thought I was just doing it to play around." But Marvis, like his father before him, doesn't play around. By the time he returned to public school, boxing had a hold on him. His father began to drift into the gym to watch him. Joe provided Marvis with two veteran trainers, Benton and Colbert, and made Marvis prove his dedication by imposing a no-sparring rule for the first seven months after he began working out, killing drudgery for a talented youngster anxious to show his stuff. The appearance of another Frazier around the gym, especially at a time that coincided with Joe's retirement, didn't go unnoticed in the boxing world, and everyone had an opinion on the budding career of young Marvis. He says half the people felt "I was just doing it because of my father" and wouldn't amount to a bead of sweat, and the other half felt he would automatically become a world champion because of his genes.
It was not an easy situation, but Marvis prospered as an amateur, losing only one fight, to Tony Tubbs of the—ugh!—Muhammad Ali Boxing Club, before Broad knocked him out. Many observers feel Joe brought Marvis along too slowly; certainly, Marvis' first real pro test is still in front of him. "What's the hurry?" Joe says after each of Marvis' fights. Papa Joe was managed by the late Yank Durham, a smart, patient man, who guided him step by step from his first pro fight, a first-round KO of Woody Goss on Aug. 16, 1965, to the victory over Ali. And Joe, in his handling of Marvis, wants to be smart, too.
There have been dozens of sons who have followed fathers into the ring (Marcel Cerdan Jr., Jackie Sharkey, Young Bob Fitzsimmons among them), but few have amounted to much. The boxing world waits to see if Marvis can change that. Still, even with the emergence of Cooney, the heavyweight picture is uncertain at best, and the name Frazier, any Frazier, would juice it up. Certainly, Madison Square Garden, which died a little more with the poor gate for Cooney-Norton, could use a Frazier. Marvis' first four fights were Garden promotions, and more than likely Joe and John Condon, the Garden's president of boxing, will soon sign another promotional agreement. "We're anxious to keep Marvis," says Condon, who is close to Joe. "We love him. We love the whole family."
Smokin' Joe, more than anyone, knows the name Frazier is still hot. As he gently wipes the sweat from his son's neck after a fight and as he stares at his son with a proud and faraway look in his eyes, you know he sees it all—the triumphs and the money and the sweat and the blood and the good and the bad. And you wonder which Frazier will be chosen, and whether it will be the right choice.