Monday 5 December 2016

Obituary: Frazier blighted by bitterness and anger after Ali encounters

Published 08/11/2011 | 10:50

Joe Frazier being directed to the ropes by referee Arthur Marcante after knocking down Muhammad Ali during the 15th round of the 1971 title bout at Madison Square Garden in New York
Joe Frazier being directed to the ropes by referee Arthur Marcante after knocking down Muhammad Ali during the 15th round of the 1971 title bout at Madison Square Garden in New York

JOE Frazier’s death at the age of 67 after a battle with liver cancer has prompted an outpouring of emotional tributes honouring his achievements in the ring.

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Yet despite his legacy, Frazier's last years were blighted by bitterness and anger.



The articulate and canny Ali always knew how to play the game but he also knew how to play it better than anyone else. He played it so well, in fact, that he got into Frazier's head and never got out.



He did not play mind games, but rather engaged in psychological warfare.



It worked, too. It worked to the extent that even nearly 40 years on from their first meeting, Frazier still bore the scars of being branded "gorilla" and "Uncle Tom" by the relentless publicist he was up against.



Frazier resented Ali for years - and even suggested his old nemesis' struggles with Parkinson's were God's way of punishing him for some of his actions outside the ring.



They were reportedly on better terms in recent years, however, and Ali was quickest to pay tribute to his old rival.



"The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration," he said.



"My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."



Frazier was born on January 12, 1944, in Beaufort, South Carolina and was raised on his family's farm, where he first developed an interest in boxing watching the sport on a black and white television



Before turning pro in 1965, he had a successful amateur career, culminating in Olympic gold in Tokyo in 1964, which he won in spite of going through the final bout with a thumb injury.



It was an example of the spirit which, as much as anything else, defined the career of a man who famously begged to be allowed back for the 15th round of the 'Thrilla in Manila', the third of his trilogy of fights with Ali, despite having been reduced to virtual blindness by his opponent's attacks.



Frazier will always be intrinsically linked to Ali. His defeat of the Louisville Lip in 1971's 'Fight of the Century', inflicting Ali's first loss at Madison Square Garden, remains one of the greatest and most momentous fights the sport has witnessed.



Rarely has a punch resonated around the world as much as that left hook which sent Ali down for a count in the 15th round.



He lost the two subsequent rematches and it is perhaps the 'Thrilla in Manila' in 1975, for which he will be remembered.



Rarely has a bout proved so comprehensively that boxing is not simply about winning and losing. Two legends of the sport waged war in frightful conditions before Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch pulled him out before the 15th.



Ali, a contradictory but ultimately kind-hearted and honest soul, conceded afterwards "it was the closest I've come to death".



Frazier, for his part, would have willingly paid that price had it been required of him.



Yet beyond the courage, the bravado and the bitterness was quite simply one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever to enter a prize ring.



The boxing world hopes he has finally found peace.



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