Monday, December 05, 2011
Legendary heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier has died from liver cancer.
Frazier, 67, passed away in a hospice in Philadelphia and tributes have begun to flow in from around the sporting world.
Known as "Smokin' Joe", Frazier was a relentless fighter who became immortalised in the sport through his trilogy of battles with Muhammad Ali. He beat Ali in 1971's "Fight of the Century" in New York before losing the next two battles, including the famed Thrilla in Manilla.
Frazier was the first man to beat Ali, knocking him down and taking a decision in 1971.
Frazier was bitter for many years about the way Ali treated him then. More recently, he said he had forgiven Ali for repeatedly taunting him.
While the "Fight of the Century" is celebrated in boxing lore, Ali and Frazier put on an even better show in their third fight, held in a sweltering arena in Manila as part of Ali's world tour of fights in 1975. Nearly blinded by Ali's punches, Frazier still wanted to go out for the 15th round of the fight but was held back by trainer Eddie Futch in a bout Ali would later say was the closest thing to death he could imagine.
That was one fight Frazier could never win.
He was once a heavyweight champion, and a great one at that. Ali would say as much after Frazier knocked him down in the 15th round en route to becoming the first man to beat Ali at Madison Square Garden in March 1971.
But he bore the burden of being Ali's foil, and he paid the price. Bitter for years about the taunts his former nemesis once threw his way, Frazier only in recent times came to terms with what happened in the past and said he had forgiven Ali for everything he said.
Frazier, who died yesterday at the age of 67 after a brief battle with liver cancer, will forever be linked to Ali, but no one in boxing would ever dream of anointing Ali as The Greatest unless he, too, was linked to Smokin' Joe.
They fought three times, twice in the heart of New York City and once in the morning in a steamy arena in The Philippines. They went 41 rounds together, with neither giving an inch and both giving it their all.
Closest thing to dying that I know of," Ali said afterwards.
Ali was as merciless with Frazier out of the ring as he was inside it. He called him a gorilla, and mocked him as an Uncle Tom - a smear given to those in the black community who were regarded as too accommodating with the white-dominated society.
Frazier, who in his later years would have financial trouble and end up running a gym in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia, took the jabs personally. He felt Ali made fun of him by calling him names and said things that were not true just to get under his skin. Those feelings were only magnified as Ali went from being an icon in the ring to one of the most beloved people in the world.
After a trembling Ali lit the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta, Frazier was asked by a reporter what he thought about it.
"They should have thrown him in," Frazier responded.
He mellowed, though, in recent years, preferring to remember the good from his fights with Ali rather than the bad. Just before the 40th anniversary of his win over Ali earlier this year - a day Frazier celebrated with parties in New York - he said he no longer felt any bitterness toward Ali.
"I forgive him," Frazier said. "He's in a bad way."