Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Frazier fought Muhammad Ali four times. They fought three times. This version has been updated.
“Smokin’”Joe Frazier, the elite boxer whose epic bouts against Muhammad Ali thrilled the boxing world and sold out arenas, died at on Monday night at the age of 67. As Martin Weil reported :
Joe Frazier, 67, the former heavyweight boxing champion who was known for his fighting spirit, powerful punch and intense rivalry with Muhammad Ali, died Monday night in a hospice in Philadelphia. He had been suffering from liver cancer.
As a heavyweight in all senses of the word, Mr. Frazier was one of the best known champions of the latter decades of the 20th century.
While at the top of the heavyweight ranks, the elite of boxing, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Frazier, who went by the sobriquet of Smokin' Joe, was known for his knockout punch.
In more than two dozen fights, Mr. Frazier’s ferocious, brawling, slugging style sent his foes to the canvas for the full count.
Among boxing fans, and connoisseurs of popular culture, his bouts with Ali have become enshrined in memory. He was the first to defeat Ali in the ring. It happened in New York's Madison Square Garden, long the world’s capital of prizefighting.
The contest went the full 15 rounds, neither able to dispatch the other, in what was described in the hyperbole of the sports world as the Fight of the Century.
In all they had three fights, and in one of them, the “Thrilla in Manila,” they outdid their previous efforts for the title.
Ali, whose relationship with Frazier was contentious during their boxing years, released a statement offering condolences and kind words in memory of his rival. As AP explained :
There was a time when Muhammad Ali taunted Joe Frazier relentlessly, called him ugly and challenged his manhood.
After his old rival died Monday night, Ali had nothing but kind words for Smokin’ Joe.
“The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration,” Ali said in a short statement. “My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.”
Outside the ring, Ali called Frazier a gorilla and mocked him as an Uncle Tom. Between the ropes, they nearly fought to the death in the Thrilla in Manila.
Those became the most poignant and defining moments of Frazier’s fantastic career. But he also was the only American fighter to win a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He was the heavyweight champ from February 1970 to January 1973, an era when that crown truly meant something. He was beloved as an adopted son of Philadelphia, embodying the city’s blue-collar grit.
And when the last round of his final fight ended Monday night, reaction to Frazier’s death poured in from every corner of the sports world.
“Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend,” former heavyweight champion George Foreman, who stopped Frazier to win the title, posted to his Twitter account.
WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao said boxing lost “a great champion” and “a great ambassador.”
Frazier’s career as an elite boxer was worthy of plaudits from fans and students of boxing alike, yet his accomplishments will always be measured alongside those of Muhammad Ali. As Matt Brooks explained:
Joe Frazier was one of the greatest boxers to ever step into the ring.
On Monday night, the former heavyweight champion and boxing icon died from liver cancer in a hospice in Philadelphia. He was 67.
But on the day when Frazier’s illness and impending death was made public, it seemed stories of his life were nearly matched in number by stories about his rival — Muhammad Ali.
When Smokin’ Joe became the first man to defeat Ali, the careers and lives of two of the century’s most dominant fighters became instantly intertwined.
They provided two more classic bouts — both won by Ali — and engaged in an often bitter war of words that lingered for decades. Ali once called Frazier an “Uncle Tom” and a “gorilla.” Meantime, it was Frazier who petitioned President Richard Nixon to get Ali’s boxing license reinstated after Ali famously refused induction into the army during the Vietnam War. And when Ali was stripped of his title in 1967, it was Frazier who boycotted the tournament to determine a new champion.
Frazier and Ali are destined to be linked forever, but Frazier should also be remembered in his own right for all that he accomplished and all that he was as a fighter, a champion and a man.
In 37 career fights, he scored 27 knockouts. He won Olympic gold in Tokyo in 1964 and lost only four times — twice each to Ali and Foreman. He was a blue-collar boxer who carried the personality of his home town — Philadelphia — with him every time he stepped into the ring. And yet, while he earned every word of praise he received, Frazier — in part due to his own straightforward personality — almost always played second-fiddle.
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