Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion who handed Muhammad Ali his first defeat yet had to live forever in his shadow, died Monday night after a brief final fight with liver cancer. He was 67.
The family issued a release confirming the boxer’s death.
Frazier, who took on Ali in three momentous fights in the 1970s — including the epic “Thrilla in Manilla” — had been under home hospice care after being diagnosed just weeks ago with the cancer that took his life, a family friend said. Until then, Frazier had been doing regular autograph appearances, including one in Las Vegas in September.
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Smokin’ Joe was a small yet ferocious fighter who smothered his opponents with punches, including a devastating left hook he used to end many of his fights early. It was the left hook that dropped Ali in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to seal a win in the so-called “Fight of the Century.”
Though he beat Ali in that fight, Frazier lost the final two and for many years was bitter about the role Ali forced him to play as his foil.
Frazier was diagnosed last month with the disease, his personal and business manager said. Leslie Wolff, who has been Frazier’s manager for seven years, said the boxer had been in out and out of the hospital since early October and receiving hospice treatment the last week.
Frazier was the first man to beat Ali, knocking him down and taking a decision in the so-called Fight of the Century in 1971. He would go on to lose two more fights to Ali, including the epic “Thrilla in Manila” bout.
Frazier was bitter for many years about the way Ali treated him then. More recently, he said he had forgiven Ali for repeatedly taunting him.
While the “Fight of the Century” is celebrated in boxing lore, Ali and Frazier put on an even better show in their third fight, held in a sweltering arena in Manila as part of Ali’s world tour of fights in 1975. Nearly blinded by Ali’s punches, Frazier still wanted to go out for the 15th round of the fight but was held back by trainer Eddie Futch in a bout Ali would later say was the closest thing to death he could imagine.
Frazier won the heavyweight title in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round of their fight at Madison Square Garden. Frazier defended it successfully four times before George Foreman knocked him down six times in the first two rounds to take the title from him in 1973.
Frazier would never be heavyweight champion again.