Boxing legend Joe Frazier died tonight of liver cancer. He was 67.
Popularly known as Smokin’ Joe, Frazier turned pro in 1965 after winning a Gold Medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He captured the vacant WBC and WBA Heavyweight titles with a TKO over Jimmy Ellis at Madison Square Garden in February 1970.
But just over a year later, Frazier would become a household name when he became the first man to defeat Muhammad Ali, winning a unaminous decision at Madison Square Garden becoming the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Frazier’s triumph was punctuated with a devastating left hook which felled Ali to the canvass.
After two more successful title defenses, Frazier lost his title in January 1973 to George Foreman on second round TKO in Jamaica. It would mark the first defeat of his professional career. A year later, Frazier would fight Ali for a second time at Madison Square Garden and lose a twelve round unanimous decision.
However, Frazier would tally victories against both Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis which would earn him one more shot at Ali who by this time had once again become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World with his victory over Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire. In October 1975, Frazier and Ali fought a blistering battle in the Philippines in what became known as The Thrilla in Manila. Ali prevailed when the fight was stopped before the 15th round by Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch. The truth is that neither fighter was the same after that night.
Frazier fought once again against Foreman the following year and once again lost by TKO. After a five year absence, Frazier laced up his gloves for his last professional fight in 1981.
What is so mysterious is Ali’s contempt toward Frazier. Ali frequently called Frazier an “Uncle Tom” and a gorilla despite the fact that Frazier had publicly opposed Ali being stripped of the title for refusing to fight in Vietnam. Not only that but Frazier personally lobbied President Nixon to allow Ali to fight.
His son Marvis would also turn pro although he would never attain his father’s success in the ring. Frazier spent his later years largely away from the limelight, preferring to train up and coming fighters in his gym in Philadelphia.