Remembering Joe Frazier

The former heavyweight champ who battled Muhammad Ali in an epic trilogy of fights dies at age 67. A roundup of tributes to Smokin' Joe

Joe Frazier, the sharecropper's son who became one of the 20th century's greatest boxers, died Monday after a long battle with cancer.
(Image credit: Bettmann/CORBIS)

On Monday night, boxing great Smokin' Joe Frazier passed away at the age of 67, after a long fight with liver cancer. He was best known for his notorious rivalry with Muhammad Ali. The two faced off in three epic fights: Twice at New York City's Madison Square Garden, in 1971 and 1974, and once in the Philippines, in 1975 — the famed "Thrilla in Manila." Frazier won the first fight, handing Ali his first defeat, but Ali prevailed in the latter two bouts. Here, a sampling of how the late, great, former heavyweight champ Frazier is being remembered:

He was so much more than Ali's foil: Yes, Frazier was best known for his rivalry with Ali, and their "famous trilogy" of fights, says Dan Rafael at But Frazier "was a great fighter in his own right, a former heavyweight champion of the world, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist, and a worthy member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame." While Ali was the fighter who emerged victorious in their "storied rivalry," it was Frazier who won the first match with a decisive left hook in the 15th round. And remember, Frazier lost to only two men in his entire career: Ali and George Foreman.

"Frazier was far more than just Ali foil"

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Frazier was actually better than Ali: "For all the deserved accolades for Muhammad Ali," the truth is, Frazier "was the better fighter," says Dave Anderson at The New York Times. Yes, Ali won the decisivie "Thrilla in Manila," but only because Frazier, his eye swollen shut, was prevented by his trainer from going in for the 15th round. And out of the ring, Frazier was "the better man." He was always a class act, whether he was buying land for his mother or making peace with Ali. The same cannot be said for Ali, who routinely insulted Frazier over the years, calling him a "gorilla" and "stupid."

"A champion who won inside the ring and out"

Frazier was the people's pugilist: The champion boxer was born a sharecropper's son, says Stan Hochman at the Philadelphia Daily News. He grew up in South Carolina, "picking okra for pennies on the pound." Ali was hailed "as a civil-rights advocate," but it was Frazier who was the "working man's champion" — a "hard worker with a generous heart," and above all, a "fighter, pure and simple."

"Frazier: Working man's champion"

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