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‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier loses battle against liver cancer

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Joe Frazier, one of the biggest sports icons of the 1960s and 70s,  passed away tonight from liver cancer at the age of 67. He was diagnosed less than six weeks ago and spent his final days in a Philadelphia-area hospice.

His family released this statement:

"We The Family of the 1964 Olympic Boxing Heavyweight Gold Medalist, Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion and International Boxing Hall of Fame Member Smokin' Joe Frazier, regrets to inform you of his passing. He transitioned from this life as "One of God's Men," on the eve of November 7, 2011 at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We thank you for your prayers for our Father and vast outpouring of love and support.
Respectfully, we request time to grieve privately as a family. Our father's home going celebration will be announced as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding."

In the weeks before his death, Frazier was said to have lost 50 pounds. Friends like Rev. Jesse Jackson and fellow heavyweight king Larry Holmes requested visits, but Frazier decided against it.

"Joe doesn't want to see anybody, the way he is now," his manager Les Wolff explained earlier this week. "I think you can understand why. He's a proud man."

Frazier's legacy is etched in stone as part of the greatest individual rivalry in sports history. The stocky, less-than-graceful Frazier was the perfect foil for the elegant and athletic Muhammad Ali.

Their trilogy, contested between 1971-75, tops everything else in boxing's long history. Frazier was the first person to defeat Ali.

Outside the ring, Frazier was helpless in the p.r. battle against the loquacious and charismatic Ali. Ali made it personal before their first meeting in 1971 calling the quiet Frazier an "Uncle Tom."

Both unbeaten, Frazier met Ali in New York City's Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 and got his revenge on Ali's trash talk by winning "The Fight of the Century" via unanimous decision. He cemented the victory by flooring Ali with a leaping left hook, his trademark punch, in the 15th round.

To illustrate the lack of respect Frazier received from some, veteran boxing writer Jerry Izenberg told the story of the fighter greeting some kids on the streets of his adopted hometown of North Philadelphia a week after the biggest victory of his career.

[...] Joe told them: "Now y'all stay in school. Don't make me have to find you."

Two of them laughed, but the third one said:

"My daddy says Muhammad Ali was drugged,"

In that instant a cold, cold mask seemed to slide across the champion's face. "'Yeah ... yeah," Joe said, "I drugged him with a left hook." And they saw the look in his eyes and all three of them ran away.

Frazier turned to me and said:

"You heard that. What I got to do? What the hell I got to do?"

There was nothing he could do. Frazier, a reserved gentleman, was never going to win a trash talk battle against Ali. Ali went on to win the 1972 rematch against Frazier, again at MSG.

The third fight in the Philippines, "The Thrilla in Manila" trumped the first two. The back-and-forth battle, ended after 14 rounds because Frazier's eyes were nearly swollen shut. His trainer, Eddie Futch, argued with his fighter before calling it a night. On a night with the temperature in Manila hovered around 100 degrees, rounds 13 and 14 were grueling. Both fighters were completely exhausted, but still wailed away at each other.

Frazier fought just two more times. He lost badly to George Foreman in 1976 and fought to a draw during a short-lived comeback in 1981.

Frazier, the son of Rubin and Dolly Frazier. was born in the poor town of Beaufort, S.C. He was the youngest of 12 children. He relocated to Philadelphia as a teenager.

While working in a slaughterhouse, Frazier began to take boxing seriously. By the time he was 20, Frazier was one of the elite heavyweight prospects in the world. He stormed to the Olympic heavyweight gold medal in 1964 in Tokyo. Six years later, he was the king of the heavyweight division, winning the WBA belt with a fifth-round TKO stoppage of Jimmy Ellis.

Frazier was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He finished his brilliant career with professional record of 32-4-1,  with 27 wins by knockout.

By Steve Cofield




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