Former heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic winner Joe Frazier died Monday night due to liver cancer at the age of 67.
Joe Frazier was born in Beaufort, South Carolina and raised in Philadelphia. Joe Frazier personified the spirit of Philadelphia: gritty, determined and hard working. Frazier fought his way up the ladder to become the undisputed heavyweight champion in 1971.
Frazier’s most hated and fierce rival was Muhammad Ali, who have fought three times over their storied careers. The first fight was billed “The Fight of the Century” held on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. The match lived up to its publicized tagline, as Frazier went 15 rounds to secure the victory over Ali, giving him his first loss. Ali defeated Frazier in the next two meetings (Ali-Frazier II & the Thrilla in Manila).
Muhammad Ali said the Thrilla in Manila was “the closest I’ve come to death.” Ali said of the late Smokin’ Joe:
“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.”
George Foreman, another rival of Frazier, had this to say about Frazier: “Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend.”
Frazier was a boxing legend, having been enshrined into both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Joe Frazier retired in 1976 after losing to George Foreman. He tried to make a comeback, albeit unsuccessful, in 1981. His career boxing record was 32-4-1, with 27 wins by KO.
Despite his great success and legendary status, Frazier always had to live in the shadow of Muhammad Ali. The intensity of their rivalry escalated when Ali called Frazier a gorilla and mocked him and his followers as Uncle Toms. Frazier’s hatred of Ali was evident when asked about Ali lighting the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games. “They should have thrown him in,” Frazier responded.
Their rivalry waned over the years, as Frazier felt sympathetic to Ali as he suffers from Parkinson’s disease. “I forgive him,” Frazier said. “He’s in a bad way.”