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Smokin’ Joe Frazier

The former world heavyweight champion has died of liver cancer aged 67.

There were certain world events and phenomena which stand out in memory from my childhood.

The assassination of JFK, the moon landings, the Beatles, Harold Wilson, England winning the World Cup and of course Dumbarton regaining first division status.

The three fights that Frazier had with Ali, even though the main focus was on his opponent, were up there as world events. Rarely, if ever can there have been such global enthusiasm for sporting contests.

When Frazier met Ali at Maddison Square Gardens in March 1971 it was billed as “The fight of the century”. The fights had extra spice as the two men genuinely seemed to hate each other. This spilled over into physical threats and violence at press conferences.

Not many people did this to Ali:

Joe Frazier stalked his opponents around the ring with a crouching, relentless attack — his head low and bobbing, his broad, powerful shoulders hunched — as he bore down on them with an onslaught of jabs and crushing body blows, setting them up for his devastating left hook.

He beat Ali over 15 rounds on points in 1971. In 1974 again at Maddison Square Gardens, Ali beat Frazier on points over twelve rounds in a non title fight. There were many who disputed the decision.

In October 1975 came the “Thrilla in Manila” in which pre fight Ali taunted Frazier as the gorilla in Manila. Ali would mock his opponent as “The great black white hope” alluding to the support Frazier received from the establishment. Ali further enraged the Frazier camp by referring to his supporters as “Uncle Toms”.

There was no dispute in Manila. Frazier was unable to emerge for the last of the 15 rounds with his eye swollen shut.

It would be impossible to write a tribute of any kind to Joe Frazier without reference to his rivalry with Ali. Frazier was only beaten by Ali and George Foreman and was perhaps unfortunate to have been around at the same time as these guys.

Despite their rivalry in the seventies, Frazier’s nemesis Ali said on hearing the news of his passing:

“The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.”