Former world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, who was known for his personal and professional battles with Muhammad Ali, has died after a brief fight with cancer at the age of 67.
The youngest of 12 children, Frazier was born in 1944 into a working-class family on a farm in the racially-segregated southeastern U.S. town of Beaufort, ((pron: BYOO’- fert) South Carolina. Frazier dreamed of becoming a prize fighter from an early age, watching boxing matches on his family’s black-and-white television.
After fighting as an amateur for several years, Frazier won a gold medal for the United States at the 1964 Olympic Games. But “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier really made his name in the 1970s during his epic rivalry with boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Frazier became the first man to beat Ali, winning the heavyweight title in 1971 in a dramatic, 15-round unanimous decision at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “fight of the century,” an estimated 300 million people worldwide viewed the match, which left both men hospitalized.
After Ali responded with a 12-round victory in 1974, the two men met in the Philippines for the famed “Thrilla in Manila,” considered to be one of the most famous sporting events in history. After battering each other for 14 rounds, Frazier was forcibly held back by his trainer after nearly being blinded by Ali’s punches. Ali later said the match was the “closest thing to dying” that he had ever experienced.
The no-nonsense Frazier was often overshadowed by Ali’s more aggressive and charismatic personality. Frazier resented being verbally attacked by Ali, who referred to him as a “gorilla” and accused Frazier of being too accommodating to the white-dominated society.
The two men remained bitter enemies for decades. But in later years, Frazier came to forgive Ali, saying he felt no bitterness against him for his attacks outside the ring. Ali also later apologized, saying the insults were only meant to promote the fights.
Ali said in a statement late Monday that “the world has lost a great champion,” and that he will always remember Joe with “respect and admiration.”
Frazier’s aggressiveness, close-range style and devastating left hook compensated for his relative small size. He weighed just 93 kilograms – considered small for a heavyweight boxer.
Frazier retired in 1976 with a record of 32 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw.
The boxing icon’s family said late Monday that he died in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia – one month after being diagnosed with an advanced form of liver cancer.
Here are some key dates in his career:
- August 16, 1965: Frazier defeats Woody Goss by TKO, earning his first professional boxing victory after several years as an amateur fighter.
- February 16, 1970: Frazier wins the world heavyweight championship, beating Jimmy Ellis in five rounds by TKO.
- March 8, 1971: Frazier becomes first man to defeat Muhammad Ali, winning a 15-round decision at New York’s Madison Square Garden
- January 22, 1973: Frazier is defeated by George Foreman, losing the heavyweight title.
- January 28, 1974: Ali defeats Frazier in a 12-round victory at Madison Square Garden.
- October 1, 1975: Frazier loses to Ali in an epic 14-round match known as the “Thrilla in Manila.”