Boxing: George Foreman leads tributes to late boxing legend Joe Frazier
GEORGE Foreman has hailed Joe Frazier as the "most courageous human being" to pull on a pair of boxing gloves following the former heavyweight champion's death at the age of 67.
Frazier died late on Monday evening US time at his home in Philadelphia, just days after it was confirmed that he was receiving hospice care after being diagnosed with liver cancer.
"I was really upset yesterday that I lost a great friend, there were so many things I wished to say to Joe," Foreman said. "Today I'm feeling food because I was blessed to be his friend."
Foreman, the only opponent who enjoyed any kind of mastery over Frazier over their two fights, also praised Frazier's character outside the ring.
"The word consistent applied to Joe Frazier," Foreman added on Sky Sports News. "You could be the King or Queen of France and he would treat them the same as if he'd met them on the bus in Philadelphia. He was just your average Joe."
Asked about his fights with Frazier, Foreman added: "I was scared. Joe was the smallest of all us but he was a frightening force to meet in the ring. Once the ball rang you could believe King Kong was in the ring.
"He was the most courageous human being to ever put on a pair of boxing gloves."
After winning Olympic gold in 1964, Frazier went on to become undisputed world champion six years later with his fifth-round stoppage of Jimmy Ellis and five successful defences.
But it was his three meetings with Muhammad Ali, spanning four years and climaxing in the 'Thrilla in Manila', one of the greatest fights of all time, that defined his career.
The brutality of the last encounter, staged in the searing heat of the Philippine capital in 1975, was staggering, with Frazier withdrawn after the 14th round by his trainer Eddie Futch, despite pleading to go back in.
Frazier beat Ali on points in a thrilling contest billed 'Fight of the Century' in 1971 to open the trilogy, but lost a less dramatic second clash in the same manner.
Outside the ring their relationship was equally fractious with Frazier feeling betrayed at being called `a gorilla` and `Uncle Tom` by Ali.
However, Ali also paid tribute to Frazier yesterday, saying: "The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.
"My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."
Frazier, a relentless, brawling pressure fighter with a lethal left hook, retired in 1976 after losing a rematch against Foreman.
Joe Bugner, who lost to Frazier in 1973, described what it was to face him in the ring.
"Joe Frazier was relentless," Bugner told BBC Radio 5 Live.
"Here was a man about 5ft 10in, he weighed about a stone lighter than myself, but he was so courageous and ferocious, you had to literally hit him with a sledgehammer to put him away.
"In 1973 I was 23 years old. I became a man after that fight because I realised you can't go through a career like boxing without seeing and feeling the power of the greats."
British former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis added on 5 Live: "He definitely was legendary and he made a great contribution to boxing.
"I'm so sad for his family. Nobody likes to hear about great heroes passing on. It's very sad for boxing today."