HIS EMACIATED body ravaged by liver cancer, former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier literally is in the fight of his life.
What has yet to be determined is whether the possible final round of that fight for Frazier, 67, will be waged here, in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia, or in a hospital in Russia.
Members of Frazier's family, who have not always seen eye-to-eye with Smokin' Joe's business manager, Les Wolff, professed to be unaware last night of Wolff's possible decision to send the extremely ill Frazier to Russia for experimental cancer treatments not available in the United States.
"In a few hours I'll be calling Moscow," Wolff told the Daily News. "Some physicists here in the U.S. say there are a number of treatments in Russia that might be helpful.
"We didn't find out Joe had this until about 4 weeks ago. He had, in my opinion, a number of misdiagnoses. Things that should have been done years ago - decades ago - were not done until recently. But I can't look at the past. I have to look at what we can do now. We need to make him as comfortable as possible and, hopefully, find a miracle."
Peter Lyde, Frazier's son-in-law and the husband of Municipal Court Judge Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde, said family members met yesterday to discuss the best way to provide a united front in the event of the patriarch's passing. He added that no one in the group had been made aware by Wolff of the possibility of Frazier traveling halfway around the world to receive some form of alternative treatment.
"We're keeping Pops in our prayers," said Lyde, in the family's first public comments since news of Frazier's illness was reported. "You can see the fight still in him. He's Smokin' Joe Frazier . . . a warrior. He's probably the toughest person I've ever met. He's aware of the good wishes of people from around the world for his recovery."
"As far as that Russia thing, Les and Denise [Mims, Frazier's longtime girlfriend] are making the decisions on the medical side of it. Les speaks for Joe Frazier as his business manager. We speak for Joe Frazier as his family. I'll leave it at that.
"But I would hope we all share the same hope that Pops somehow beats this thing. He has a team of doctors. Who's treating him, I can't say. But now that we know the severity of what he's facing, how do we fix it? Can it be fixed? Ultimately, it's in the Lord's hands.
"We just want what's best for him. If that means him going to Russia, I guess he's going to Russia."
Wolff said Frazier is in a Philadelphia hospice, has lost 50 pounds and is reluctant to see anyone outside of his tight inner circle. Among those who have asked about visiting his bedside but have not been allowed to do so are another former heavyweight champion, Easton's Larry Holmes, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"Joe doesn't want to see anybody, the way he is now," Wolff explained. "I think you can understand why. He's a proud man.
"He is well aware of what's going on. He's on pain medicine that causes him to sleep a lot, but when he's awake he's quite coherent."
Frazier's greatest rival, Muhammad Ali, issued a statement Sunday saying that he was "pulling for" Frazier.
"The news about Joe is hard to believe and even harder to accept. Joe is a fighter and a champion and I am praying he is fighting now," Ali, 69, said in a statement to CBS News.
"My family and I are keeping Joe and his family in our daily prayers. Joe has a lot of friends pulling for him, and I'm one of them."
Frazier, who was born in Beaufort, S.C., the last of Rubin and Dolly Frazier's 13 children, moved to Philadelphia as a teenager in search of a better life. He brought with him a work ethic baked and hardened under an unforgiving Southern sun.
After finding work in a slaughterhouse, Frazier discovered his true calling, boxing, where his sledgehammer left hook and indomitable will sent him first to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. There he won the heavyweight gold medal as a replacement for the injured Buster Mathis. Then it was on to a legendary professional career highlighted by his epic, three-bout rivalry with Muhammad Ali. The first of those pairings, on March 8, 1971, was dubbed the "Fight of the Century." Smokin' Joe floored Ali with a leaping left hook in the 15th round en route to winning a unanimous decision.
A 1990 charter inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Frazier compiled a 32-4-1 record as a pro, with 27 victories inside the distance.
In recent years Frazier's health has worsened as the result of diabetes, chronic back pain and the loss of a toe in a lawnmower accident. But no matter the obstacles he's had to overcome, he has remained the same man who went to hell and back three times with Ali and kept punching.
"If you talk about heart, determination, courage, all that good stuff, you're talking about Joe Frazier," said Holmes, a onetime Frazier sparring partner. "I got my fingers crossed. I've been watching the news all day and all night, trying to find out what's happening with him.
"I know it don't look good, but if anybody can beat what he's up against, you'd have to think Joe would be the guy."