By Duncan Johnstone
Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker got more than he bargained for when he visited the grave of heavyweight legend Joe Frazier in Philadelphia today.
In a spooky coincidence the grave site adjacent to the American great's at the Ivy Hill cemetery bore the name Joseph Parker, 1828-1890.
"Wow, it just shows that the family name is rubbing shoulders with champions," Parker said.
It was a light moment to a sombre experience with Parker and Kiwi light-heavyweight Robbie Berridge full of respect as they signed a glove on behalf of New Zealand fighters and placed it at the impressive grave of Frazier who died from liver cancer in November 2011.
The resting place of "Smokin' Joe" features a virtual life-size picture of him wearing his 1964 Olympic gold medal and the world heavyweight belt he earned in 1970 as undisputed champion.
He followed that up a year later by being the first man to beat Muhammad Ali in what became a fascinating and bitter rivalry.
Frazier lost to only two fighters - Ali and George Foreman - in a 37-fight career that was played out in a truly heavyweight era of the sport.
"It was humbling to visit the grave site of Joe Frazier, a hall of famer. I certainly never thought I'd visit the grave of the first man to beat Muhammad Ali," Parker said as his own young career starts to gather momentum.
"It's definitely inspiring to see that plaque and the picture on his grave. Reading that ... his world titles, it's definitely something I want to achieve. It's motivation."
Parker and Berridge had driven an hour-and-a-half from their hotel on the outskirts of the Philadelphia to pay homage to Frazier. They later visited the gym Frazier owned for his own training and to help the youth of the city.
The building still bears his name but the ground floor is now a furniture shop with his treasures hidden away from public viewing upstairs.
Parker, who enjoys the rich history of his sport, said there was no surprise about Frazier's success from what he had viewed of his fights on YouTube.
"He had that brawler-type style, mostly coming in at his opponent because he wasn't that tall. He'd bob and weave. Those guys are hard to fight because of the pressure they bring."
Berridge liked reading about Frazier's signature left hook on the plaque. It's a weapon Berridge has developed himself in taking his WBO ranking to No 9.
That lofty ranking is at stake on Saturday when Berridge meets unbeaten Russian champion Vasily Lepikhim on the same card as Parker who fights American Keith Thompson.
Both fights are being televised in the United States and New Zealand.
Tags: Joseph Parker