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Smokin' Joe stood toe to toe with 'the greatest'

Joe Frazier, the relentless slugger who became the heavyweight champion of the world and earned boxing immortality with three epic battles against Muhammad Ali, has died aged 67, his personal manager said.

'Smokin' Joe' Frazier, who was the first boxer to beat Ali, died in Philadelphia yesterday a month after being diagnosed with liver cancer. Leslie Wolff, Frazier's personal manager, confirmed his death.

Muhammad Ali -- Frazier's nemesis for many years -- said in a statement: "I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."

Don King, who promoted the Thrilla in Manila, was described by a spokesman as too upset to talk about Frazier's death.

A fellow Philadelphia fighter, long-time middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, said Frazier was so big in the city that he should have his own statue, like the fictional Rocky character.



hollering

"I saw him at one of my car washes a few weeks ago. He was in a car, just hollering at us, 'They're trying to get me!' That was his, hi," Hopkins said.

"I'm glad I got to see him in the last couple of months. At the end of the day, I respect the man. I believe at the end of his life, he was fighting to get that respect."

Frazier won the Olympic heavyweight boxing gold medal for the United States in 1964 in Tokyo and held the world heavyweight boxing crown from 1970 to 1973.

He is eternally linked with Ali thanks to their trilogy of fights in the 1970s, among the most famous in the history of the sport. Frazier won the first and Ali took the next two.

While both fighters were African-American Olympic gold medalists, their personalities could not have been more different. Ali was a charismatic self-promoter. Frazier was a no-nonsense man who dropped out of school at 13.

Frazier won the world heavyweight title in 1970, knocking out champion Jimmy Ellis, after Ali had been stripped of the championship in 1967 for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War due to his Muslim beliefs.

Ali was reinstated in boxing and met Frazier on March 8, 1971, at New York's Madison Square Garden, in a bout billed as 'The Fight of the Century'. Frazier sent Ali to the canvas with a left hook in the 15th round. Ali got up but Frazier won by unanimous decision.

The brutal encounter left both men hospitalised. Frazier later lost his title in 1973 to hard-hitting George Foreman.

The second Ali-Frazier fight was on January 28, 1974, again at Madison Square Garden, with Ali winning a 12-round decision.







FAMOUS

Ali then beat Foreman to reclaim the championship. He defended it in the third Frazier fight on October 1, 1975, in an encounter in the Philippines known as 'The Thrilla in Manila' -- one of the most famous sporting events of the 20th century.

The two punished each other for 14 rounds, then Frazier's trainer and cornerman Eddie Futch stopped the fight before the 15th round, while Frazier fumed in the ring corner, one of his eyes swollen shut. Frazier never forgave Futch for giving Ali a victory by technical knockout.

Frazier amassed a career record of 32-4-1. He retired after a second loss to Foreman in 1976, then came out of retirement for a fight in 1981 before ending his career for good. His only losses were to Ali and Foreman.

Ali became a beloved sports legend but Frazier was never embraced the same way. He also lost almost all of his money. He lived alone in an apartment above the gym where he trained young fighters in Philadelphia.

In the 1980s, Frazier managed the boxing career of his eldest son, Marvis, who was best known for devastating knockout losses to champions Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. Frazier's daughter, Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde, entered women's boxing and fought Ali's daughter Laila, losing on a decision in 2001.

hnews@herald.ie


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