Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion famed for his trio of bouts with Muhammad Ali including the epic Thrilla in Manila, has died. He was 67.
Frazier died Monday in his Philadelphia home of liver cancer. He was diagnosed four or five weeks ago and had been in a hospice for the past week, his business manager, Leslie Wolff, said over the weekend.
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"We thank you for your prayers for our father and vast outpouring of love and support," Frazier's family said in a statement.
"I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration," Ali told The Associated Press
in a statement. "My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."
Known as "Smokin' Joe" and armed with a devastating left hook, Frazier became the first boxer to beat Ali when the undefeated champs battled in 1971. "That was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life," Frazier said.
He would lose their next two fights — their last being the blockbuster Thrilla in Manila in 1975 when they traded vicious blows for 14 rounds in the grueling heat that nearly left Frazier blinded. Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, had to stop him from going out for the final round.
"Closest thing to dying that I know of," Ali said afterward.
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The loss forced Frazier to live in Ali's shadow for the rest of his life — a role he was bitter about for years and which was exacerbated by Ali's off-ring taunts. After Ali lit the 1996 Olympic flame, Frazier famously quipped: "They should have thrown him in."
Frazier fought just two more times after the Manila bout, losing to George Foreman
in 1976 and getting a draw during his 1981 comeback against Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings.
Born in Beaufort, S.C., Frazier started boxing after watching fights on TV as a child. Before his career took off, he worked at a Philadelphia slaughterhouse and used its meats as his punching bags — a detail used in Rocky
(in which he had a cameo). He won three amateur titles in the early '60s and the 1964 Olympic gold medal. After turning pro in 1965, Frazier started a streak of 29 wins, including the heavyweight title, which he beat Jimmy Ellis to claim in 1970. He successfully defended it four times before losing it to Foreman in 1973.
His career record was 32-4-1 with 27 knockouts. Frazier only lost to two fighters: Ali and Foreman.
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Frazier was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He managed a gym in Philadelphia until 2009 and frequently made media appearances — his last was an autograph signing in Las Vegas in September — where he nearly always talked about boxing's most famous trilogy.
In recent years, Frazier said he no longer harbored hard feelings for Ali. After HBO made a 2009 documentary about Thrilla in Manila from Frazier's perspective, he told Sports Illustrated
it was all water under the bridge.
"Nobody has anything but good things to say about Muhammad now," Frazier said. "I'd do anything he needed for me to help. I can't fight the whole world or the whole city by myself."