Surrounded by punching bags, worn mats, and a throng of adoring fans, boxing legend Smokin’ Joe Frazier looked right at home inside a Halifax gym Thursday.
The 66-year-old sat patiently in front of the main ring at Palooka’s Boxing Club on Gottingen Street for nearly an hour, signing gloves, photos, T-shirts and just about anything else thrust in front of him by fans.
Frazier, most famous for his vicious left hook and longstanding rivalry with Muhammad Ali, was in Halifax for the Canadian Progress Club sports celebrity dinner and stopped by the club to greet about 70 fans, many of whom weren’t even born when he fought his last bout in 1981.
“I’ve heard some cool things about him,” said 13-year-old Michael Anthony, happily clutching a pair of freshly signed gloves.
“Dad told me he was one of the best boxers ever.”
Many would agree with that assessment. Frazier is both an Olympic (1964) and World Heavyweight boxing champion, and over the course of his career built a reputation as one of the fiercest fighters ever to enter the professional ring.
He was anything but fierce Thursday, however, chatting with almost everyone who lined up in front of him and throwing a few playful jabs at unsuspecting fans.
“It’s nice seeing everybody,” he said of the crowd. “I love’em!”
Palooka’s assistant manager Josh Lyon said it was “amazing” to have Frazier in the club, even for a short visit.
“The kids really took to him, and he seemed to have a really good time as well. I thought it went really well,” Lyon said after the event.
“He’s everybody’s hero in the boxing community.”
Former Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury was among the other sports stars in Halifax on Thursday for the Canadian Progress Club sports celebrity dinner at Cunard Centre on Thursday. Joining Joe Frazier and Fleury were fellow hockey greats Dennis Hall and Paul Henderson, as well as ex-Major League pitcher Jim Abbott.