Marvis Frazier has always had to live up to expectations.
He was the boxing son of a boxing legend. Names carry a lot of weight. Sometimes even enough to crush a heavyweight boxer with big hands and big plans. It might have been nothing more than God and a humble self-awareness that has allowed him to thrive in a different mission.
THE LEGEND OF SMOKIN’ JOE
“Joe Frazier’s name means something to people,” Marvis said of his father and former heavyweight champion.
Indeed, it is a name everyone knows, though perhaps not everyone can place. Joe Frazier once formed what is easily one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sport. The three bouts Frazier had with Muhammad Ali in the 1970s are regularly touted as some of the finest in boxing history.
A SON FALLS SHORT IN GROWTH
Marvis, now 47, was a celebrated young fighter in the late 1970s. Despite success as an amateur, his professional boxing career is largely defined by two losses. He was pummeled by Larry Holmes in 1983 and was dropped in 1986 by an upcoming 19-year-old fighter named Mike Tyson. Yet, as with most people defined by moments, he is so much more than that.
He is barrel-chested but deceptively so. There is a hesitance in his speech, so characteristic of boxers, but his appears to be rooted less in those right hooks he got from Holmes 15 years ago and more in humility. Like how could any wisdom come from an old Philly boxer holed up in an office in central North Philadelphia. It comes, though. It comes.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT BOXING
Marvis holds the Bible close to his heart. He splits his time between Philadelphia boxing icon and Delaware reverend. There is a stripe of white that he wears as an accessory in his black hair. He works in a building that bears his father’s name and sits in an office cluttered with his father’s memorabilia. He shapes lives.
Marvis began managing Joe Frazier’s Gym not long after he retired from the ring in 1990, the same gym in which he started his own boxing career in 1975. The gym, which opened at 2917 N. Broad St. in 1969, is as much a community center as any YMCA or church rectory could ever be.
“We’re trying to change young men,” Marvis said last week. The thin and twitchy boy who wore a black hood over his face one cold morning last week before being let into the gym might agree. He shadowboxed with great concentration, as if his being alone in the ring was no reason to think he had nothing to fight at that particular moment in his life. Joe and Marvis Frazier taught him how.
“It’s not always about boxing,” he said. “We’ve had guys become accountants, computer programmers.”
Some are desperate, others are just looking for something, but they all come out different, he explained.
While Joe Frazier tours, Marvis handles the daily operations of a gym that is perhaps more community outreach than gloves and headgear.
Joe Frazier’s Gym is nothing Marvis takes lightly.
“This,” he said with a wave of his hand and a nod of his head, “is the ministry God has given me.”
Christopher Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org