Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier is in a fight for his life, battling the final stages of liver cancer, according to published reports.
Leslie Wolff, Frazier’s manager, told CNN that the 67-year-old is in a Philadelphia hospice in the final stages of liver cancer that was discovered “four or five weeks ago.”
Promoter Don King, who matched Frazier against Muhammad Ali in “The Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines on Oct. 1, 1975, learned of Frazier’s grave condition on Saturday morning and planned on honoring him before a cruiserweight title match between Guillermo Jones and Mike Marrone in Hollywood, Fla., that he was promoting on Saturday night.
“Joe Frazier is a giant among men,” King said. “He was a great gladiator and a great fighter. When Smokin’ Joe came to the ring you knew you had someone who was coming to fight. He edified himself and qualified himself as a champion among champions in his fights with Ali. My prayers are with him.'”
Frazier, who was born on Jan. 12, 1944, the son of a sharecropper in Beaufort, S.C., was noted for his devastating left hook. When Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for his stance against the Vietnam War in 1967, Frazier emerged as the man who cleared up the confusion in the division. Frazier knocked out Buster Mathis in the 11th round to win the title in a match sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission in 1968. Later he added the WBA title with a victory over Jimmy Ellis.
Frazier supported Ali while he was exiled from boxing and he thought that they were friends. When Ali was reinstated to boxing in 1970, Frazier agreed to fight him. They met at Madison Square Garden on March 7, 1971, in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Frazier scored a 15-round decision to retain his championship. During the promotion for the fight, Ali called Frazier “an Uncle Tom” and characterized him as a tool of the white establishment. Frazier felt as if he had been stabbed in the back and that sparked hostility that has lasted to this day.
“Joe was always a very sensitive guy,” King said. “He never forgave Ali, who kept it going by saying he was going to beat the gorilla in the Thrilla in Manila.”
Frazier lost the heavyweight title to George Foreman in 1973 and fought Ali twice more, first losing a decision in 1974.
But it was their third and final match in 1975, “The Thrilla in Manila,” that defined both men. It was a grueling match conducted in the tropical heat of the Philippines. Ali outlasted Frazier, who finished on his stool in the 14th round when his trainer Eddie Futch wouldn’t allow him to come out for the final round. Ali, who won on a TKO, said it was the closest he ever come to death.
Frazier fought a few more times and retired for the first time in 1976. He made an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1981 and then retired for good with a record of 32-4-1. He opened a boxing gym in Philadelphia and tried his hand at singing with his backup group “The Knockouts.” Frazier was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
During a meeting with a small group of reporters at Madison Square Garden in March on the 40th anniversary of his fight with Ali at the arena, Frazier, who was in frail health, came to life when he talked about reigniting his singing career. He even tossed aside his cane to do a few dance steps.
Now the man who went toe-to-toe with Ali and Foreman is in his biggest battle.