IT HAS taken days of phone calls.
Each middle-man palms me off to the next.
Finally, I get to say: “G’day Mr Frazier.”
“Mr what?” the voice shoots back.
“Call me Smoke. Smokin’ Joe.”
Cool. This is going to be fun.
Joe Frazier, 66, is in Australia for one week as a guest at his old foe Joe Bugner’s 60th birthday charity dinner.
But I want to talk to him about another former Australian heavyweight he fought – Kyogle’s own Olympian, Athol McQueen.
At first his recollection is sketchy.
“I remember kings and queens and hills and hotels,” Smokin’ Joe tells me.
“But I don’t remember all that many fights.
“I had more than 100 bouts. Sometimes you wake up and don’t know where you are.”
Explicable considering the man has twice fought George Foreman and been 41 vicious rounds with Muhammad Ali.
I prompt: White guy, an Aussie, first guy to ever put you on your backside.
“Oh yeh,” he says.
“McQueen. That boy can punch!”
In the quarter-finals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics McQueen floored the future champion with his trademark right hand.
As it turned out, Smokin’ Joe dragged himself off the canvas, beat McQueen on points and won the Goldmedal.
And as history tells us, Smokin’ Joe went on to enjoy a five-year reign as heavyweight champion of the world.
“I fought the best, nothin’ but the best,” he says.
The former champ is aghast with the standard of heavyweight boxing in the 21st Century, and when provoked can’t help but take a swipe.
“There ain’t nothin’ for me to see there,” he says.
“I love sport but I can’t bear to watch boxing these days.
“These boys aren’t trained right.”
With Mixed Martial Arts exploding on to the scene and potentially stealing much of boxing’s limelight, who better to canvas an opinion from than Smokin’ Joe.
“Oh that!” he says.
“To those boys I say, do you want to be a m-a-n or a w-o-m-a-n.”
A hard-nosed stand-up brawler, Smokin’ Joe sees no merit in MMA.
“They come at you when a man is down. That’s crazy,” he says.
“They sit on top of each other and beat a man on the chest and I’m like ‘hey what goes on here?’
“In between each others legs, they look like they want to make love.”
And how would a professionally trained mixed martial artist go against Smokin’ Joe in his prime.
“Ha, I don’t think he would have a chance to put a hand on me. The closer he gets the more I’m gonna work himover.”
“You can’t hold me when I go to work on your body, I’m gonna crack your ribs. Whack, whack!”
Considering he has likely been fielding the same questions from the media hounds day-in day-out, his tone, opinions and enthusiasm are rather fresh. He speaks almost in verse, and draws you into doing the same.
But by the way he tails off into oblivion at the end of each verbal section, you get the feeling Smokin’ Joe ain’t gonna remember this conversation come tomorrow.
Maybe that’s why his thoughts remain so fresh, Smokin’ Joe ain’t remembering, he’s merely responding.
I gave Athol McQueen a bell, but he wasn’t answering.