Norwich fighter’s tribute to Frazier

A Norwich woman once tipped to become a champion by Joe Frazier today paid an emotional tribute to the former heavyweight great, who has died at the age of 67 from liver cancer.

A chance meeting with Frazier started Marianne Marston, from Old Costessey, out on the professional boxing path.

And the 38-year-old is now even more determined to succeed in the ring since her former mentor's death.

'My debut fight will be dedicated to Joe and it will be an everlasting regret that he could not see me box for real as a professional,' said Marston.

She was introduced to boxing when she began training to build up her strength as she recuperated from a life-threatening illness. Then, purely by chance while on a working assignment, she met Smokin' Joe, the first man to beat Muhammad Ali, in a Philadelphia coffee shop in 2005.

Even though she did not recognise Frazier, she was persuaded to show the ageing champion a few sparring moves, impressed sufficiently to be invited to Smokin' Joe's gym – and eventually moved across the Atlantic to train in pursuit of an unlikely ambition.

'I was on a trip to Philadelphia doing research for a TV programme and went into a coffee shop near the hospital,' said Marston, who worked for Despatches and The London Programme.

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'These two guys asked if they could sit at my table. We started talking and the subject of boxing came up. I stood up and threw a few combinations and clipped Frazier. He thought I had some talent and invited me to try out at his gym.'

One of Marianne's most abiding memories of Frazier was having her hands wrapped by the great man.

'It was my first training session at his gym in Philadelphia and I was a little nervous.

'I was sat doing my wraps when in walked Joe and I was a little overawed. He spotted me and came over and said 'that's not how a champion wraps their hands, this is how a champion wraps their hands', and he sat down and started to put on my wraps.

'It was a small thing but meant so much and still does.'

Despite having had the backing of one of boxing's all-time greats, the former Norwich High School for Girls pupil, the daughter of two teachers, who took part in swimming, gymastics and fencing, then gained a degree in microbiology before embarking on a career in television, is still struggling to get her boxing career off the ground.

'Joe was a real gent and showed no prejudice towards me as a woman in boxing. It's not something I fully appreciated at the time,' admitted Marston, who is yet to make her professional debut.

'I've found it very difficult because of red tape to get a licence in this country and I've had visa problems in the States. I've been licenced to box in Malta and that's where I hope to make my debut early in December, it's just such a shame Joe can't be there.'

Muhammad Ali also led tributes from around the world to Frazier.

'The world has lost a great champion,' said 69-year-old Ali, who fought Frazier three times.

'I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.'

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis said of Frazier: 'He was one of boxing's greats. He was legendary.'

The Briton added: 'He has made his mark in boxing, everyone knows his history.

'Without him, other boxing heroes wouldn't be great either because they really tested his talent against him.

'In a room filled of great men, he is definitely one of them.'

Frazier, who won Olympic gold in 1964, became world champion in 1970 after Ali had been stripped of his titles in 1967 for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.

When Ali tried to reclaim his belts, Frazier beat him, winning their much-hyped clash in 1971.

It was Ali's first loss as a professional, but a defeat he avenged.

Frazier and Ali met a further two times in the ring, Ali winning both contests, including the epic 'Thrilla in Manila' in 1975.

The American also fought compatriot George Foreman, another of boxing's heavyweight greats. They met twice, Foreman winning on both occasions.