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14 NOVEMBER 2018


Joe Frazier Loses His Final Battle

Joe Frazier 1944-2011
Joe Frazier 1944-2011

By Clive Bernath: Boxing legend ’Smokin’ Joe Frazier, famous for taking part in some of the greatest heavyweight title fights in the history of the sport, has lost his final battle with liver Cancer at the age of 67.

‘Smokin’ Joe, was best known for his trilogy of fights with Muhammad Ali and two battles with George Foreman. On hearing the news of Frazier’s death, Ali said: "The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration." Foreman tweeted on his Twitter page, “Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend."

The announcement of Joe Frazier’s death was given in a statement by his family in the early hours of Monday morning, ‘Smokin’ Joe was officially diagnosed with liver cancer in September. In early November, he reportedly began receiving hospice treatment, only allowing close friends and family members to see him.

Joseph William Frazier was Born in Beaufort, South Carolina on January 12, 1944, and was the youngest of 12 children. At just 5ft 11, Frazier would be considered a little on the small side compared to today’s heavyweight giants but he was giant in the ring in every way.

Frazier turned professional in August 1965, almost a year after winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, stopping Woody Goss in the opening round. From there Frazier went on to knockout 16 of his next 18 opponents before stopping Buster Mathis in the 11th round to claim the vacant NYSAC world heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden on March 4, 1968.

From that day on a heavyweight star was born. After successfully defending the title against Manuel Ramos, Oscar Bonavena, Dave Zyglewicz and Jerry Quarry, Frazier unified the world titles by scoring a fifth round tko win over Jimmy Ellis to claim the WBC and WBA crowns in 1970.

But it was a year later on March 8, 1971 that the true extent of Frazier’s formidable talent would eventually emerge when he faced Muhammad Ali in the first of three of the most famous fights in heavyweight history.

After 15 ferocious rounds Frazier emerged victorious via unanimous decision and at the same time handed Ali his first defeat as a professional. Following two routine title defences Frazier accepted the challenge from a young man by the name of George Foreman. At age 24 Forman was nearly five years younger than the champ and had a reputation as the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division. In front of 30,000 excited boxing fans at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica Foreman mercilessly knocked the champion down a total of six times before the beating was stopped in the second round. Frazier was bounced around the ring from beginning to end but his incredible bravery and stubbornness was not enough to prevent him from being defeated for the first time.

Frazier marked time by out-pointing Englishman Joe Bugner just six months later before again facing his bitter rival the great Muhammad Ali. Since Frazier had beaten Ali a few years earlier ‘The Greatest’i had rebuilt his career and defeated the supposedly unbeaten giant George Foreman. He had not only defeated Foremen he forced an eighth round stoppage. Ali was back to his best and to add a bit more weight to the Frazier rematch-Ali took pleasure in insulting his rival by publicly calling him an Uncle Tom and referring to him as a Gorilla. They even squared up to each on live TV to reinforce their hatred for each other.

The stage was set for the rematch and again it took place at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, this time it was Ali’s hand that was raised in victory. After 12 rounds the judges made Ali a unanimous decision winner. At a win apiece and after two of the greatest heavyweight bouts of all time it was inevitable that a third encounter between the two should happen. And happen it did. On October 1,1975 the third and final battle between the two bitter rivals took place in Manila, Philippines. After two mouth watering encounters it was pretty much accepted that a third fight could not possibly match the previous two. But to everyone’s amazement Ali vs Frazier lll proved to be a more ferocious battle than the previous two. For 14 rounds Ali and Frazier traded punches like wounded animals as if their lives depended on it. The bout only ended when Frazier’s chief trainer Eddie Fuch stopped the fight at the end of the 14th round after seeing how exhausted Frazier was. Ali himself collapsed in the middle of the ring afterwards and late admitted that the third fight with Frazier was the nearest thing to death he has ever experienced. The fight was dubbed ‘The Thrilla In Manila’, and possibly the greatest fight in heavyweight boxing history.

Frazier fought just twice more after the final battle with Ali. After being stopped in the fifth round by big George Foreman in the rematch in 1976, Frazier briefly retired but made a return to the ring in December 1981 and fought to a majority 10 round draw against fellow American Floyd ‘Jumbo’ Cummings. In a 37 fight career that saw him win 32-lose 4 and draw I, just two men, Ali and Foreman defeated him.

Joe Frazier fought in arguably the greatest era of heavyweight boxing. At just 5ft 11 he invariably gave away both height and reach but his incredible fighting heart more than made up for any physical disadvantages. We live in an era when the words ‘legend’ and ‘great’ are far too freely used nowadays but whenever those words are mentioned in the same sentence as Joe Frazier they are truly justified.

November 8, 2011

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