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Controversy grows around closing of Joe Frazier’s Gym

A British boxer and her fiancé-manager have said pressure to sell Joe Frazier’s Gym comes from a mishandling of funds.

Joe Frazier's Gym BannerJoe Frazier has developed a reputation for business failings that rival his status as a boxing legend. That much is confirmed by those closest to him.

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.

BUSINESS FAILINGS

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 cwink@temple.edu.

24 Responses to “Controversy grows around closing of Joe Frazier’s Gym”

  1. Mark

    Joe Frazier should be a legend in Philadelphia but instead I barely knew he was still alive. If Wolff has been with Frazier for 5yrs I can’t believe he is completely honest if Frazier still cant keep his gym in shape or pay for renovations. I want to hear what Joe has to say.

    Reply
  2. Ace

    Joe Frazier is part of boxing history. He is part of Philadelphia history. There is no statue of Frazier in the City and I don’t believe that he has a mural like Wilt or Dr. J (With exception to one on the Blue Horizon along withAli, Foreman & Holmes).

    This city should be ashamed that it has never rallied around one of it’s true warriors. Frazier was and is a real Rocky type story. He was the other half of the Fight of The Century. All across the globe Muhammed Ali has been immortalized, yet in his own city Joe Frazier is not held in such regards.

    It really is a shame. Many people have had their hand out to get whatever they could from the former Heavyweight Champ and now that the well has run dry, the friends vanish.….…

    The City of Brotherly Love.….. I guess that doesn’t include Joe Frazier.…..

    Reply
  3. nancy fox

    I just read Ghosts of Manila by Mark Kram. It is amazing to me knowing now how poorly Ali acted and w/all his insults and abuse to Joe Frazer, that he, Ali, would have such dignity today. What is it with this country? Do you just have to be a winner no matter how you do it?. He was the best maybe, but these boxing records just record the decision. WHo was the best. And what’s with Philedelphia not havinbg a statue of Joe Frazer. Very disappointing. Ali got away with so much. It’s really not Ali’s fault that he got away with all this, people asked for it, hungry for this new, jarring personality. It’s time someone talked about Joe Frazer and what he contributed to the sport, if you could call it that.

    Reply
  4. Dennis

    Joe Frazier is a legend and a wonderful human being with a heart of Gold. I knew him personally and hung out with his family and cousin as a kid. I used to be at the gym all the time in the late 70’s. Joe Frazier is the true and real Rocky of Philadelphia. We live in a crazy world and it is sad that Philadelphia doesn’t reach out to Joe. It is sad that the city has turned there back on such a remarkable and courageous human being. I remember him being very nice and a gentleman. He would stop to talk to kids and backed up traffic…not caring who was behind him.

    It doesn’t matter where Joe is at this time or what financial dilema’s he is in…his still has done wonderful things for other people’s careers and the city of Philadelphia. Joe had the most generous heart that I had ever seen and taught me much just watching him and hanging around the gym. But as history always repeats itself.…“Nice Guys Finish Last”..

    Reply
  5. milton williams

    Hi,

    I am trying to get in touch with Joe Frazier.. I have a copy of my 1996 book MOMENTS IN TIME and a 1976 photo I took of him with Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Jack Demsey, Joe Louis Barrow and Jersey Joe Walcott together I want to give to him. I sent a copies of same to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville KY. and to Muhammad Ali.

    Milton Williams

    Reply
  6. Sam

    Hi,

    As a boy growing up, I idolized Muhammad Ali and cheered for him during all of his fights. Even when he battled Joe Frazier. My heart and soul was with Ali. His charm and boxing skills overshadowed the courageous heart of Joe Frazier.

    I only began to appreciate the the strength and the ferocious heart and courage of Frazier in the late 1980’s. Joe Frazier’s financial problems are unfortunately a classic example of what has happened to other great champions before him.

    Through it all, I can’t help but think to myself that somehow what sets Ali and Frazier apart today is that Ali has moved on, away from boxing to become an appointed ambassador of goodwill to the U.N., took up numerous humanitarian causes, and has helped countless number of people who are currently suffering from Parkinson’s disease like him.

    In every public forum that I have seen or heard Ali, when asked about Joe Frazier, he says that he “Loves Joe Frazier. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Joe Frazier”. On the other hand, Frazier is constantly mocking Ali for his physical disabilities, shows hatred for Ali even after 34 years since the “Thrilla In Manila”, and said that he hoped Ali would fall into the fire when Ali was lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996.

    These kinds of statements by Joe frazier reflect bad judgment on his part and speaking very frankly, the public is tired of Frazier’s whining about what happened over 30 years.

    The hatred Joe Frazier feels for Ali, I think came back to haunt him and he became his own worst enemy. Frazier should do what Ali has done — Move on.

    No matter how hard Frazier may try, he might as well learn to live with it, and deal with it; The world sees Muhammad Ali as “THE GREATEST OF ALL TIMES”, not Joe frazier.

    Besides, Ali told us long before the world recognized that he was indeed the “Greatest Fighter In The History Of Boxing”.

    Reply
  7. politicalpuck

    Joe Frazier has been poorly treated by Philadelphia…the statue in the city of the fictional character “Rocky” is a direct insult to Joe. The statue should be of Joe Frazier.

    Joe needs to forgive Ali of his insults that were part of the parade-making of their fights. Joe needs to forgive for the sake of his own soul.

    Ali today says he loves Joe Frazier as a man and has respect for him as a fighter. He publicly says that Joe Frazier made Ali what he was.

    Reply
  8. Stan Dural

    Well said up above by Sam, I could not have said it better. Ali moved on and that should be a lesson to everyone, we must all move on. As Ali said “its only sports but it can mess with your mind I wake up happy everyday”>

    Reply
  9. THE GREAT DANE FROM LEESBURG FLA

    TO: JOE FRAZIER. HI MY NAME IS ANDRIE KENNEDY (A.K.A.) THE GREATDANE FROM LEESBURG FLA. WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THE CLOSEING OF YOUR GYM I WAS VERY HURT BY IT BECAUSE. I ALL WAYS WANTED TO VIST YOUR GYM AND TRAIN WITH YOU I WAS ONE OF THOSE LITTLE MINI ME FRAZIERS. BACAUSE I WANTED TO BE JUST LIKE YOU.I ASK OF YOU PLEASE? PLEASE? DO NOT CLOSE YOUR GYM DOWN I PROMISE YOU IF YOU KEEP YOUR DOORS OPEN THE IS GOING TO BLESS YOU IN MY EYES YOU ARE STILL THE CHAMP YOUR SOON TO BE FIGHTER IF YOU TRAIN ME ANDRIE –THE GREATDANE-KENNEDY LOVE YOU

    Reply
  10. THE GREAT DANE FROM LEESBURG FLA

    TO: JOE FRAZIER. HI MY NAME IS ANDRIE KENNEDY (A.K.A.) THE GREATDANE FROM LEESBURG FLA. WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THE CLOSEING OF YOUR GYM I WAS VERY HURT BY IT BECAUSE. I ALL WAYS WANTED TO VIST YOUR GYM AND TRAIN WITH YOU I WAS ONE OF THOSE LITTLE MINI ME FRAZIERS. BACAUSE I WANTED TO BE JUST LIKE YOU.I ASK OF YOU PLEASE? PLEASE? DO NOT CLOSE YOUR GYM DOWN I PROMISE YOU IF YOU KEEP YOUR DOORS OPEN THE GOD IS GOING TO BLESS YOU IN MY EYES YOU ARE STILL THE CHAMP YOUR SOON TO BE FIGHTER IF YOU TRAIN ME ANDRIE –THE GREATDANE-KENNEDY LOVE YOU

    Reply
  11. MR BAKER

    Hi my name is Tom,I used to do some training at Joe Fraziers Gym back in the late 70s early 80s and have many fond memories of the place.I was first introduced to the gym through some friends Tim Sinese and Bennie Dougherty along with some others who did some training at Henleys b/c before it was the Front st gym when Mickey Grandinetti owned it,I was always treated with respect being that I was not a neighborhood guy,and I was also giving help with my training even though I probably was not a very boxer by boxing standards.However I did have the pleasure to meet Joe Frazier and Marvis,for being champion of the world I could not believe how gentle and warm a man he was toward not just me but everyone,he did indeed treat people with kindness and respect whether they were contenders from his gym or just guys like me just liked to train.GOD BLESS JOE FRAZIER

    Reply
  12. MANNY

    I REMEMBER THOSE GUYS FROM HENLEYS COMING TO OUR GYM,AND I REMEMBER,I BELIEVE THEY WERE TRAINED BY JIMMY MCCLAIN…THEY WERE ALRIGHT BUT IF ANY OF YOU GUYS READ THIS THEN YOU KNOW WHO I AM AND HOW SORE YOUSE WERE ON YOUR WAY HOME! HEY JUST FUNNIN YOU.I HAVE A LITTLE GYM JUST AROUND CORNER FROM THE BLUE HORRIZON ON CECIL B MOORE CALLED MANNY,S WESTSIDE HOOKERS,ALL THANKS TO JOE FRAZIERS GYM. P.S. STOP BY AND WE CAN TALK OLD TIMES OUCH!!!!MANNY

    Reply
  13. alan thorpe

    i would love to meet joe. just seen the manila document, a proud man and so he should be.

    Reply
  14. leon australia

    did the gym re open and does Joe still live there? Integrity is everything and the Frazier family are still world champions!

    Reply
  15. Mohamed

    I’ve always though Frazier was a better fighter than Ali and it’s a shame he’s not a recognised.

    Reply
  16. Anthony

    Have always been a huge “Joe” fan and to hear of his difficulties pains me deeply.
    Even back several years as a white Australian who is only a relatively young man compared to “Joes era” and shares a birthday with Muhammad Ali, I dually got interested in him(Ali) & by proxy found out about Joe Frazier.
    Before this topic received the light of day to a “modern audience” through documentaries such as the excellent “When We Where Kings” & the more recent & salutory “Thrilla in Manilla” I had developed an interest in these outstanding fighters .
    Lets face it boxing fans, and any fans of triumph over human adversity in general -“Smokin Joe” should’nt have been in any way “Heavyweight Champion of the World”.
    Now as the cry’s of discontent go up, let me explain please.….
    He was outweighed by them all(usually 204 — 214 pounds fighting weight vs 220 & beyond — normal for Heavyweights), he was outreached by them all,he was dwarfed by them all, usually giving up at least a foot or more in height & he was virtually blind in one eye(watch the documentary “Thrilla in Manilla” to see the stated facts), but no matter what, he “KEPT ON SMOKIN” he took five punches to give a devastating “ONE” and if that is’nt courage than I don’t know what is. Every day we watch garbage movies scripted by idiot wrtiters starring inane Hollywood actors (Paid Millions of Dollars by the way) depicting “Courage” — watch the “Thrilla In Manilla“documetary if u want 2 see what “real” courage & grit is all about(Joe & Ali)than watch this fight if u can stand it in it’s full version — yeah “Joe” “IS” realy dying out there…(real blood, real cuts, real bruises,eyes closed,… perhaps cerebral damage & obvious pain & suffering type dying ..did he really know what the effects would be long term type doubts…in that 14th round.… (this ain’t no Hollywood movie)yet his pride,his will,his spirit,his determination does not let him fall or just give up(even when he was pumelled by a giant young George Foreman years earlier(one of the hardest punches of all time) the ref had to stop it because “Joe” just would not quit. He was the greatest champion of all time in my humble view — he just could’nt sell it in a modern world of hype — nor would I guess would he want too.. in his inevitable warrior way. Unlike Ali(who deserves his greatness dues too — don’t get me wrong)Joe Frazier is not given the Icon status of so many hero’s. This is disgraceful and indicative of how we have negated reality for fantasy today (there is a statue to “Rocky” for god’s sake in Philly but not Joe Frazier) — everyone knows who “Spiderman” is, but does hardly anyone know the story of “SMOKIN JOE” — In my humble opinion what a sad indictment of those who manage his affairs & a society in general — People, find out your history,love,respect and cherish ur “REAL” heroes before it’s too late .…. peace always ~ Anthony

    Reply
  17. Kevin Carvalho

    Joe needs help and if there is anything i can do to help raise money for him, please let me know. He is a true gentleman and a class act. The city of Philadelphia needs to contact people like me that are willing to help him. Replace the cheezy statue of Rocky and relpace it with a statue of Smokin Joe!

    Reply
  18. Marty Burman

    In case anyone was interested, Joe Frazier was born in South Carolina, not Pennsylvania. Joe Frazier moved to Philadelphia at the beginning of his boxing career, but he grew up in South Carolina.

    Reply
  19. David Pendleton

    Joe Frazier was a true gentleman and role model for Philly Kids who had little hope for the future.i grew up in north philly,and I can tell you it was no cake walk.Joe frazier and Bernard H opkins are role models.Long live the kings of the ring.

    Reply
  20. Ola Thomas

    Ali came back to the ring after 3 years suspension from boxing. Frazier wouldn’t have won that fight in 1971 had Ali not been laid off.Even at that, Ali showed class and guile and when he fell in 15,he sprang up and the ref didnt give a standing count.Frazier should know God chose and made Ali far greater than he is and nothng he can do about that and beating Ali in ’71 was to Ali’s blessing and God’s plan for Ali to become “THE GREATEST OF ALL TIMES”

    Reply
    • ric

      If you say so stud
      Ali ruined boxing even today w/ his sh*t talking which is why boxing is dead and almost everyone does or watches MMA, Joe was classy like a true fighter should be, there is no room for thrash talking in a fight just handle your business like Joe did

      Reply
  21. raj

    JOE FRAZIER WAS A GREAT BOXER AND A GREAT HUMAN BEING.…He was very humble„ never showed a sign of any proud and hate like ALI did.. Thats why he was loved and will always be loved by normal people and all champs like FOREMAN, LARRY and all. There interviews are the example.…Guys watch any interview of any great fighter.. they always said good things bout JOE FRAZIER.….……JOE was the champion normal people.…..he taught us a big lesson that„, WAT A NORMAL PERSON CAN DO WITH COURAGE AND WILL POWER…he was champion of world by knocking out guys like ALI with his left hook.….…..HATS OFF TO CHAMP .…..LOVE AND RESPECT .…JOE FRAZIER

    Reply
  22. mikey may

    Why is it that the people who often say all the good things about someone after they’re gone do the least but have the most resources…?why dont Foreman,Holmes and for that matter Ali get together and save the gym,these people profited the most from Joe…and they have the means to do it,to add insult to injury,why doesnt Stallone himself do it by himself.…guess no press in that,no money or fame either…just makes you wonder why those who have so much do so little and especially for those who helped them become or were part of who they are.

    Reply
  23. steven shannon

    Mr. Joe frazier is a legend and a former heavyweight champion of the world. The gym must be refurbished and turned into a national shrine. I met joe in the 90’S and he was a class act. The city officials there must do whats right to return to joe the right he has earned.way past due.refurbish now and reopen for public tours.joe was a people person and he would love this to become reality.r.i.p. my friend. Mr. Shannon.

    Reply

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