One in an occasional series about women in boxing.
Jacqueline Frazier-Lyde fights showed just how strong genetics are. The way she came forward, her relentlessness, her boldness and left hook are all characteristics she shared with her late father, former world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
Frazier-Lyde didn’t grow up being touted as the next big-time fighter in the Frazier family tree. She became a lawyer. But like Smokin’ Joe and her brother Marvis, “Sister Smoke” wanted to box. And when she did, everyone saw the strength of genetics on display.
“She had her father’s attitude,” cousin Mark Frazier said. “That was like a female Joe Frazier.”
One of Frazier-Lyde’s best attributes is her courage and fearlessness. That was on display in 1986 when she had to be held back from going after the most feared man in boxing, Mike Tyson, after he knocked out Marvis.
Frazier-Lyde played basketball at American University after playing softball, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School. When she announced her decision to become a boxer at the age of 38, her family wasn’t afraid for her, but there was some immediate concern. As a mother of three, no one knew what she was capable of until she went to her father’s gym and started hitting the bags.
“We just looked at her in disbelief, like ‘Wow!’ " said Peter Lyde, Jacqui’s husband. “She can really hit a heavy bag. We knew she was an athlete, and we knew she was serious-minded.”
Frazier-Lyde’s motivation was simple. She wanted to fight Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, her father’s legendary rival. Laila had built a following with her early-career dominance. Frazier-Lyde also made news by saying she’d kick Ali’s “butt” if they fought.
Avenging her father’s two defeats was more than a goal for Frazier-Lyde. It was a mission. Starting in February 2000, she ran through her first seven opponents in 13 months. No bout went the distance as she delivered knockout after knockout to set up a meeting with Ali.
“It went from Jacqui Frazier can’t fight, to no one wants to fight Jacqui Frazier,” Lyde said.
It was being billed as the fourth fight in one of the most storied rivalries in sports. Ali-Frazier IV, set for June 8, 2001, featured the daughters of two of the greatest fighters of all time.
This fight was personal. Frazier-Lyde made it known earlier in her career that she was coming for Ali, 16 years her junior. Ali wasn’t saying much besides taking shots at Frazier-Lyde’s skills.
“It became a role reversal like [Frazier-Lyde] was [Muhammad] Ali and Laila was Joe,” Lyde said. “Ali wasn’t saying a whole lot and Jacqui was cracking jokes, talking smack, and out-talking [Ali] at different press conferences."
Ali-Frazier IV was the first pay-per-view card headlined by women. Boxing analyst Larry Merchant touted the fight as being a “celebrity brawl.” The eight-round fight took place at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, N.Y. It was standing room only.
As the two undefeated boxers stood face-to-face in the ring, the fight appeared that it was going to be more than a celebrity brawl. Neither looked as if they heard a word being said by the referee. Their eyes were deadlocked on one another to see who’d blink first.
The fight wasn’t pretty. Frazier-Lyde left with a swollen eye and Ali suffered a broken collarbone.
Sister Smoke was relentless in the first two rounds, throwing punch after punch and taking Ali out of her game plan. Ali took control of the middle rounds with her jab, but in the seventh and eighth rounds, Frazier-Lyde was hitting Ali with the legendary Frazier left hook.
“It was like watching a mini-version of Frazier-Ali all over again,” Mark Frazier said.
Ali utilized her jab just enough to nab the majority decision win over Frazier-Lyde. The judges scored the fight 79-73, 77-75, 76-76.
“We felt the fight at minimum should’ve been a draw,” Lyde said. “They both brought the best out of each other that night.”
“That fight could have easily been scored an even draw,” former boxing judge Lawrence Jones added. “They each gave as good as they took.”
Frazier-Lyde and her camp lobbied for a rematch, but Ali never obliged. Ali, concerned about potential long-term injuries, was vocal about her plans on not having a long boxing career. Her 12-month layoff after the Frazier-Lyde fight was her longest between fights.
Frazier-Lyde finished her boxing career 13-1, with nine knockouts. She won the light-heavyweight title, which created the first father-daughter world champions in boxing. Ali later joined her by winning the super-middleweight and light-heavyweight titles. Sister Smoke also won super-middleweight and heavyweight titles.
Frazier-Lyde after boxing
Frazier-Lyde’s boxing career ended in 2004, but that was far from the last time she’d be fighting for something. She was elected as a Philadelphia municipal court judge in 2008 and remains in that role. Frazier-Lyde is the only championship boxer to become a judge in court and not the ring. She was unable to be interviewed for this story due to that role.
As evidenced by her willingness to box at age 38, Frazier-Lyde admires her father. Her husband said that she was the most like him of her siblings.
After being diagnosed with liver cancer in September 2011, Joe Frazier died on Nov. 7, 2011. He was 67.
“It was a rough patch,” Lyde said. “We are praying people, but it was rough. They loved each other.”
Today, Frazier-Lyde hosts a celebration in Philadelphia every year free to the public on Jan. 12, her father’s birthday, to honor him.
Less than three years after his death, Frazier-Lyde joined Joe and Marvis in the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. She was the first woman to be given the honor and didn’t take it lightly. Even though Ali and Frazier-Lyde had their differences, Sister Smoke wanted the two fighters to help elevate women’s boxing.
“In the field of women’s boxing, she was an extremely significant groundbreaker,” Jones said. “The names certainly helped, but the fact that the fight was a very competitive fight, it really demonstrated that women boxers could be world-class professional athletes.”