BOXING legend Muhammad Ali today paid tribute to his greatest ever rival, 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier, saying: "The world has lost a great champion."
Frazier, who had been suffering from liver cancer, died overnight at the age of 67.
This morning tributes poured in. Smokin' Joe will be forever remembered for his trilogy of punishing fights against Ali.
Frazier beat Ali on points in the so-called 'Fight of the Century' in 1971, but lost in two further meetings, including the epic 'Thrilla in Manila' in 1975. "The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration," said Ali. "My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."
The pair had an at-times fraught relationship, dating back to taunts Ali directed at his rival in the build-up to their famous trilogy of fights.
Frazier won his first 29 bouts, from 1965 to 1972, and became the undisputed heavyweight champion with his technical knockout of Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round at Madison Square Garden in February, 1970 .
In his second title defence in March, 1971, he met Ali for the first time in a fight that would go down in boxing history as the "Fight of the Century." Both men entered the contest undefeated, and each earned $2.5 million, a lavish payout for a fighter at the time. Fast-talking Ali by then was a global celebrity, having been stripped of the heavyweight title four years earlier for refusing induction into the US military during the war in Vietnam.
Ali injected a note of racism by calling Frazier a gorilla who was "too ugly to be the champ" and saying, "Anybody black who thinks Frazier can whup me is an Uncle Tom."
In the 14th round, Frazier landed one of boxing's most storied punches, a left hook that caught Ali on the jaw and knocked him down for a count of four. After 15 rounds of unrelenting mutual punishment, Frazier won a unanimous decision.
In "Boxing's Greatest Fighters," Bert Sugar recalled Frazier battling Ali that night: "Frazier moved in relentlessly - no qualms, no hesitations, no questions, just straight in like a hurricane - his right a mere throat clearing for his devastating left.
"Time and again he rocked Ali, until at last Ali, hit so hard he couldn't even limp, joined the ranks of the walking wounded. Joe Frazier had, at last, emerged from the shadow of Ali."
Frazier, who kept his title until George Foreman knocked him to the mat in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 22, 1973, lost his rematch with Ali on January 28, 1974.
Ali prevailed again in their third and final meeting, the "Thrilla in Manila" on January 10, 1975, when Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight following the 14th round on behalf of his exhausted fighter.