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Final bell for Smokin' Joe

Former heavyweight champion and legend Joe Frazier loses battle against liver cancer on Monday.

other Updated: Nov 09, 2011 02:02 IST

Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion whose furious and intensely personal fights with a taunting Muhammad Ali endure as an epic rivalry in boxing history, died Monday night. He was 67.

His business representative, Leslie Wolff, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Frazier had liver cancer and that he had entered hospice care.

Known as Smokin' Joe, Frazier stalked his opponents around the ring with a crouching, relentless attack - his head low and bobbing, his broad, powerful shoulders hunched - as he bore down on them with an onslaught of withering jabs and crushing body blows, setting them up for his devastating left hook that led to him holding the heavyweight crown from 1968 to 1973. Frazier won 32 fights in all, 27 by knockouts, losing four times - twice to Ali in furious bouts and twice to George Foreman. He also recorded one draw.

He had left his hometown Beaufort with about $200 in his pocket on a Greyhound bus bound for New York and a better life. He soon settled in Philadelphia, where he sometimes worked in a meat locker, battering a side of beef as if it were a punching bag - the inspiration for a scene in the "Rocky" movie.

A slugger who weathered repeated blows to the head while he delivered punishment, Frazier proved a formidable figure. But his career was defined by his rivalry with Ali.

Undisputed champ
Frazier won the undisputed heavyweight title with a 15-round decision over Ali at Madison Square Garden in March 1971, in an extravaganza known as the 'Fight of the Century'. Ali scored a 12-round decision over Frazier at the Garden in a non-title bout in January 1974.

Then came the 'Thrilla in Manila' championship bout, in October 1975, regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history. It ended when a battered Frazier, one eye swollen shut, did not come out to face Ali for the 15th round.

Frazier was essentially a man devoted to a brutal craft, willing to give countless hours to his spartan training-camp routine and unsparing of his body inside the ring.

"The way I fight, it's not me beatin' the man: I make the man whip himself," Frazier told Playboy in 1973.

"Because I stay close to him. He can't get out the way." He added: "Before he knows it - whew! - he's tired. And he can't pick up his second wind because I'm right back on him again."

Lasting rivalries
In his autobiography, "Smokin' Joe," written with Phil Berger, Frazier said his first trainer, Yank Durham, had given him his nickname. It was, he said, "a name that had come from what Yank used to say in the dressing room before sending me out to fight: 'Go out there, goddammit, and make smoke come from those gloves.' "

Foreman knocked out Frazier twice but said he had never lost his respect for him. "Joe Frazier would come out smoking," Foreman said. "If you hit him, he liked it. If you knocked him down, you only made him mad."

Both Frazier and Ali had daughters who took up boxing, and in June 2001 it was Ali-Frazier IV when Frazier's daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde fought Ali's daughter Laila Ali at a casino in Vernon, N.Y. Like their fathers in their first fight, both were unbeaten. Laila Ali won on a decision.

In March 2001, the 30th anniversary of the first Ali-Frazier bout, Ali told NYT: "I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have said. Called him names I shouldn't have. I apologize for that. It was all meant to promote the fight." Frazier responded: "We have to embrace each other. It's time to talk and get together. Life's too short."

First Published: Nov 08, 2011 23:21 IST