It used to be said that behind every great man there is a great woman. Well, I would wager that behind every great boxer, there is a great trainer. In the case of Marvis Frazier, there was more than one.
I am reminded of a story I once heard about two wealthy men arguing over a business dispute. In the heat of the argument, one of the men threatens the other with “you’ll hear from my lawyer!”. At which time the other fires right back “you’ll hear from my four lawyers!”. Tell me about any great boxer and his great trainer and I’ll tell you about Marvis Frazier’s four great trainers. Heck, I’ll tell you anyways.
Most boxing fans are aware that Marvis Frazier was trained and managed by his famous father, Smokin’ Joe Frazier. What a great opportunity that was for a beginning boxer like Marvis, to work directly with one of the greatest boxers ever. Joe Frazier not only trained Marvis on a day to day basis in his own gym, bestowing on him all the many details of the profession he had learned as a fighter himself and inspiring Marvis to a high level of achievement, but he also arranged for the many professional opponents who his son fought in a sequence that approximated his increasing skill level.
However, Joe Frazier was only one of four trainers who worked with Marvis. The other three, although possibly less well known, were just as important to the young Frazier’s development.
During his son’s four years as an amateur, Smokin’ Joe Frazier was still involved in his own careers (boxing and singing). In his absence, Marvis’s training was entrusted to three of the best trainers Joe Frazier could offer.
The first and best known to the boxing world was George Benton. George had been a world class boxer himself, contending for the middleweight title in the 1960’s, but he ended up in the Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer. Over the years he worked with many big name fighters, including: Joe Frazier, Jimmy Young, Leon Spinks, and Evander Holyfield. As a trainer, George’s quiet demeanor and fighting strategies fit Marvis to a tee.
Sam Hickman was another trainer for Marvis who was soft spoken, despite having been a Green Beret. Sam was a keen observer who mostly studied Marvis in order to chart his progress so that he could carefully pick amateur opponents to match his rising skill levels. Sam Hickman was one of the main reasons that Marvis won so many amateur titles.
Vellen Colbert was the third of the “three musketeer” trainers who played such a significant role in the boxing success of Marvis Frazier. “Vel” came into Joe Frazier’s gym to help George Benton with Smokin’ Joe and stayed for years after Joe retired to help train Marvis and scores of other boxers. While Joe and Marvis had the obvious father/son connection, Vel Colbert and Marvis became lifelong friends and through that friendship Vel was a big help to Marvis during difficult times in life, too.
Together these four men turned the athletic “diamond in the rough” Marvis Frazier into a boxer who ended up with a lifetime record of 75 and 4 while competing at the highest levels of competition.
I am reminded of the two boxers playing poker. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” Marvis says to his opponent. “An Ace?” “Not bad.”
“Me?” “Well, I’ve been lucky, I’ve got four of a kind!”
Until next time, Jamie