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The legend of 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier

Last updated on: November 8, 2011 20:42 IST

The legend of 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier

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Smokin' Joe Frazier, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the 1960s and '70s and the first boxer to beat Muhammad Ali died in Philadelphia, a month after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Frazier was born in segregated South Carolina in 1944, the youngest of 12 children. He dropped out of school at age 13 and said his uncle told him when he was a boy he would become the next Joe Louis, the celebrated black heavyweight champion of the 1930s and 1940s. Moving to Philadelphia, he aimed to make good on that prediction.

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.

He also lost almost all of his money. He lived alone in an apartment above the gym where he trained young fighters in a run-down section of Philadelphia.


Image: Joe Frazier
Photographs: Getty Images
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Frazier won the world heavyweight title in 1970

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Frazier's career took flight when he won the Olympic heavyweight boxing gold medal for the United States in 1964 in Tokyo. Thereafter he went on to hold the world heavyweight boxing crown from 1970 to 1973.

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

Ali was later reinstated into boxing and his very first fight was that famous one against Frazier.

Frazier will always be remembered for his rivalry with Ali -- a rivalry is etched in history, the sort of stuff legends are made of.


Image: Joe Frazier
Photographs: Getty Images
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'Fight of the Century'

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Frazier gained immortality with the three epic fights against Ali, the first of which was billed 'Fight of the Century'. With big names like singers Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross and actor-director Woody Allen gracing the occasion and the media frenzy over the bout, the event couldn't have a more apt name.

On March 8, 1971 at New York's Madison Square Garden, Frazier sent Ali to the canvas with his trademark, deadly left hook in the 15th round. Ali got up but Frazier won by unanimous decision.

The brutal encounter left both men hospitalized.

But the second of the three bouts between the men, on January 28, 1974, again at Madison Square Garden, saw Ali winning a 12-round decision.

Ali followed this up with a win against Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight championship.


Image: Muhammad Ali goes down in the 15th round to a left hook from world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier
Photographs: Getty Images
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'The Thrilla in Manila'

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And, Ali defended his title when he met Frazier in the last and most gruesome bout of the trilogy.

Known as 'The Thrilla in Manila', the fight went on to become one of the most famous sporting events of the 20th century. On Oct. 1, 1975, 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.


Image: The World Heavyweight title fight between Joe Frazier (left) and Muhammad Ali
Photographs: Getty Images
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'Who would Ali have been without me?'

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Years later, in an interview to New York Times in 2006, Frazier said, "I am who I am, and yes, I whipped Ali all three times. Ali always said I would be nothing without him, but who would he have been without me?"

This rivalry was not just limited to the boxing ring. Frazier and Ali often got into a war of words. Ali once ridiculed Frazier as a "gorilla" and an "Uncle Tom," a deeply insulting term referring to a black who acts in a humiliatingly subservient way toward whites.

For his part, Frazier insisted on calling his foe Cassius Clay, the birth name that Ali changed in 1964 for a Muslim name.

They remained bitter toward each other for decades.

Image: Joe Frazier (left) and Muhammad Ali
Photographs: Reuters
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Frazier came out of retirement in 1981

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Frazier came out of retirement in 1981, but the move proved unsuccessful. Later 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.


Image: Joe Frazier
Photographs: Reuters
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