Smokin' Joe Frazier died yesterday from liver cancer, says his manager, Leslie Wolff.
Frazier was known as one of the most elite, if underrated, fighters during the heyday of heavyweight championship boxing. His three bouts with Muhammad Ali — including the famed “Thrilla in Manila” fight — helped solidify him as a legend, and his mean left hook became his trademark.
"You can't mention Ali without mentioning Joe Frazier," said former AP boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. "He beat Ali, don't forget that."
The son of a South Carolina sharecropper, Frazier won a gold medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and went toe-to-toe with greats such as George Foreman, Oscar Bonavena, Joe Bugner and Jimmy Ellis. On Oct. 1, 1975, in the third match-up between Frazier and Muhammad Ali, nicknamed “The Thrilla in Manila,” Frazier sparred with Ali for 14 rounds until his eyes were nearly swollen shut and his corner stopped the bout, according to the biography on the fighter’s website.
"It was the closest I've come to death," Ali said.
Frazier's match-up against Ali in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, dubbed the "Fight of the Century," was one of the most epic ring battles of all time. Both fighters were paid an unprecedented $2.5 million, and entered the ring in front of a worldwide television audience and a live crowd that included Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, Woody Allen and Burt Lancaster. Frazier won by unanimous decision.
"I can't go nowhere where it's not mentioned," he told The Associated Press just a few months ago. "That was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life."
Frazier retired in 1974, only to stage an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1981, after which he hung up the gloves for good. He spent his final years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he owned and managed a boxing gym, and trained young fighters.