But debate over the recent closure of Joe Frazier’s Gym, the North Philadelphia landmark at North Broad Street and Glenwood Avenue, has pitted a British boxer and her fiancé-manager against the 20th century sports icon’s business manager.
CLOSING OR RENOVATING
A March 30 press release announcing the boxing club’s permanent closure was refuted by Les Wolff, Frazier’s business manager. He said the recent shuttering of the gym at 2917 North Broad Street was for renovations only.
“The building is at least a century old. It’s easier to close down, clean out what could politely be called junk, and see what kind of renovations we need,” Wolff told The Temple News last week.
For the last five years, Wolff has been charged with reviving the staid condition of Frazier’s finances. At least one pair, whose relationship to the gym has come under question, has characterized Wolff as another in a line of Frazier abusers.British boxer Marianne Martson relocated from London to Philadelphia in February to train under Frazier and his son Marvis, a heavyweight contender who managed the daily operations of the gym.
“Marvis Frazier made it quite clear to me — and other fighters — that Frazier’s Gym would not be reopening at all,” Martson wrote The Temple News last week.
Gianluca “Rio” Di Caro, a self-proclaimed former music executive from the United Kingdom who is Marston’s manager and fiancé, said he has made it his mission to make profitable again. Joe Frazier’s Gym, a former dance hall that was first made a training facility for Frazier in 1968, under the name Cloverlay Gym.
Frazier has long been considered the fiscal failure from the top tier of the golden age of boxing. The biggest names in boxing history are Frazier contemporaries, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and his longtime rival Muhammad Ali, all of whom are millionaires. Up until recent months, Frazier had been living in a rundown, one-room apartment over his gym in central North Philadelphia.
“He chooses the wrong people all the time. He really just doesn’t realize it,” Di Caro said. “As long as he has a bit of money in his pocket, he doesn’t seem to care beyond that.”
Wolff acknowledges Frazier has been taken advantage of financially before, but says he is trying to right the ship. Di Caro maintains that Wolff is another in the long line of “leeches.”
“Les is dead honest about his motivation: money,” Di Caro said. “But, with all the things he talks about, the man seems incapable of creating wealth for Joe.”
For his part, Wolff had been announcing Joe Frazier would revive his R&B career on an April 29 episode of the new CBS celebrity-reality show Secret Talents of the Stars. The show was canceled last week after one episode. Frazier is being featured in two documentaries and is reviewing an offer from director Penny Marshall and other lucrative sponsorships, Wolff said.
They are all negotiations that either Di Caro calls complete fabrications or for which he takes credit.
At least one of the appearances Wolff mentioned – a stop on the Howard Stern radio show next week – could be confirmed. He’ll appear Tuesday, Wolff said, as part of the first travel Frazier has done in months, after recent surgery and subsequent recovery.
One voice that has remained silent on the issue is Joe Frazier himself.
He underwent nearly seven hours of surgery on Feb. 20, the sixth surgery related to a 2002 car accident that happened in front of his gym, and is still suffering the effects, Wolff said. The accident was never reported to Philadelphia Police, according to a 2006 inquiry by the New York Times.
Marvis Frazier, too, is quick to defer questions to Wolff.
“It’s business. I have nothing but good things to say about Les Wolff,” the younger Frazier said. “Of course I would love to see the gym stay open, but it’s not mine. It’s my father’s place. It’s Joe Frazier’s Gym, not Marvis Frazier’s Gym.”
“I don’t really understand Joe and Marvis’s relationship,” Di Caro said.
So the fight ensues, at least on one side.
“Mr. Di Caro is a non-entity to me,” Wolff said.
SELLING THE GYM
The gym has been put up for sale, as both Marvis Frazier and Wolff have confirmed.
Rumors that a potential buyer could be interested in developing student housing for Temple’s nearby medical school have also surfaced.
But, Di Caro said it’s a ploy by Wolff to scam more money out of Frazier. Of any deal Wolff negotiates for Frazier, he gets just 40 percent, Di Caro said. Wolff gets 20 percent and others who Di Caro say are taking advantage of Frazier get similar cuts, Di Caro said.
“Les bullies him for some reason,” he said.
“I don’t know who Mr. Di Caro is or where he comes from,” Wolff said. “I would assume he has his own agenda.”
Claims of Joe Frazier’s Gym financial struggles are exaggerated, Wolff said.
In November, lawyers representing the City of Philadelphia announced their intentions to sue the gym for $127,000 in owed taxes, labeling it one of the city’s biggest tax delinquents, as first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But now all of the gym’s federal, state and municipal taxes are being adequately managed, Wolff said.
“Everything is either paid or on a payment plan,” he said. “It’s being handled.”
Wolff is quick to say they are exploring many options, but selling the gym might be the most sensible, Wolff said.
“The renovations would cost at least $6 million,” Wolff said. “Joe should be worth $100 million. He’s not.”
“Money has seemed to have gone missing,” Di Caro said.
On March 29, Di Caro said he was in a meeting about the financial stability of the gym with Marvis Frazier, other staff and Wolff, Di Caro said. The next day Di Caro received a call from Joe Frazier, saying Di Caro’s services wouldn’t be needed any more, he said. Di Caro had been offering publicity and promotional services to the gym since moving to Philadelphia indefinitely late last year, Di Caro said, though that role has been disputed by Wolff. Marvis declined to comment on the relationship Di Caro had with the gym.
Frazier, who didn’t return a call made by The Temple News, is a supporter of Di Caro’s work, Di Caro said.
“Joe has been a big supporter of saving the gym,” Di Caro said.
Still, the day after that meeting – Sunday, March 31 – the gym was closed, Wolff says for renovations, Di Caro says forever.
“Selling the gym is not closing the gym. Joe Frazier’s Gym will not close. Joe Frazier is that gym,” Wolff said. “I know people put a lot of emotional attachment on buildings, but my attachments are to people.”
Those running Joe Frazier’s Gym should be pushing to make it a historic landmark, Di Caro said.
“That doesn’t fit Les’s plan, though,” Di Caro said.Di Caro, a newcomer to the gym, maintains that his motives in the dispute aren’t for anything more than to right a wrong for friends he says he has made.
“Marvis is a genuine person, and Joe is loveable rogue,” Di Caro said.
But he’s finding it difficult.“I won’t drop this,” he said. “I will not drop this.”
Christopher Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.