Former world heavyweight champion, boxing Hall of Famer, and all-time great legend "Smokin'" Joe Frazier passed away tonight after a battle with liver cancer. He was 67 years old. Family sources passed the news on this evening.
Frazier was born in South Carolina in 1944. His father, he said in an interview with EA Sports (a highly recommended watch) earlier this year, was a bootlegger, and had some trouble with the law.
"Back in the country where I'm from, the Carolina part, my dad was like, a bootlegger. He'd been away a couple times, for them catching me with the liquor. But they took him to jail. They took me to jail first, then he'd come to see me and let me out and say 'send him home.'"
In the same interview, Frazier described how he became inspired to become a fighter, and his early training methods:
"I was seeing these fighters, Louis, Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson. And these guys were great guys, so I said to myself, 'One of these days, I wanna be like these guys.' And I stayed in the south but they didn't have the equipment there for me to practice. I came home, and let's say, I took a bag, and I stuffed with different things -- moss, corn cobs, little briquettes, you know, some of my mama's old clothes or my old clothes. So punching, pulling the bag up with different things in it and making it a heavy bag, that's how I got my boxing ability. And when I got through with that, I said, 'I gotta leave this town. I need to move and get to a place that I can be champion of the world.' So I moved here, in Philadelphia."
Frazier would become known as one of Philly's all-time most ferocious fighters and greatest champions, on the pedestal with the men who inspired him.
Frazier was a star amateur fighter, winning the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves in 1962, 1963 and 1964. He also earned the gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In 1965, he turned professional, where he became one of the biggest and most-respected stars of his era. By 1967, he was in line for a title shot, but turned down a tournament chance to replace stripped champion Muhammad Ali, who had refused induction into the U.S. military. That year, he defeated well-known battler George Chuvalo, and in 1968 he stopped Buster Mathis in 11 rounds, taking the pro "0" from the man who had been his greatest amateur rival.
With the win over Mathis, Frazier became the New York State Athletic Commission world heavyweight champion, a vacant title that had been dormant since the late 1930s, when Joe Louis held the belt.
Frazier would defend that title four times, the last of those bouts a win over Jerry Quarry, which was named the 1969 Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. In February 1970, Frazier picked up the WBC and WBA belts with a win over Jimmy Ellis. And 13 months later, he fought Muhammad Ali for the first time.
Frazier and Ali had an epic rivalry that makes today's worst media wars look tame in comparison. Ali's level of trash talk was at times well over the line, in the opinion of many, but Frazier made him pay in their first fight, winning a clear fifteen round decision at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971.
It was the pinnacle of his career. The two would meet twice more, with Ali winning a 1974 rematch at Madison Square Garden (UD-12), and then arguably the most grueling fight in boxing history in 1975, the famed "Thrilla in Manila."
But Frazier's career, which wasn't long but was spectacular, also crossed the path of George Foreman (who knocked Frazier out twice in 1973 and 1976), Joe Bugner, Bob Foster, and many others.
Frazier was a blue-collar, working class sort of fighter. He was the man who inspired much of Sylvester Stallone's Oscar-winning 1976 film Rocky, and while he didn't get much credit for that early on, he did later get a Rocky-brand action figure in his likeness.
He retired first in 1976, following his second loss to Foreman, but returned for an ill-advised one-off in 1981, drawing with Floyd Cummings.
Joe Frazier was one of the world's most popular and most admired fighters, and he was indeed a fighter, in and out of the ring, from the day he was born until his passing tonight.