Ali heads up Frazier tributes

Boxing is mourning the passing of one its finest heavyweights after Joe Frazier lost his battle with liver cancer.

Leading the tributes to a true warrior, who has died at the age of 67, were two of the men who helped him shape the division's golden era, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

The careers of Frazier and Ali were inextricably linked as they forged one of sport's great rivalries, engaging in a unforgettable trilogy of fights.

On Tuesday, Ali paid tribute to his former foe, saying: "The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.

"My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."

Foreman, the only opponent who enjoyed any kind of mastery over Frazier over their two fights, tweeted his reaction to the news, saying: "Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend."

It emerged over the weekend that the former undisputed world heavyweight champion had liver cancer and he was reported to be in hospice care.

His family confirmed he had passed away in a statement reported by Philadelphia's WPVI-TV this morning, which read: "We, the family of the 1964 Olympic boxing heavyweight gold-medallist, former heavyweight boxing champion and International Boxing Hall of Fame member Smokin' Joe Frazier, regret to inform you of his passing.

"He transitioned from this life as "One of God's Men", on the eve of November 7, 2011 at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"We thank you for your prayers for our father and vast outpouring of love and support."

Among Frazier's many achievements were winning Olympic gold at the 1964 Games, becoming undisputed world champion six years later with his fifth-round stoppage of Jimmy Ellis and making five successful defences.

But it was his three meetings with Ali spanning four years and climaxing in the 'Thrilla in Manila', one of the greatest fights of all time, that defined the Philadelphia resident.

The brutality of the last encounter, staged in the searing heat of the Philippine capital in 1975, was staggering, with Frazier withdrawn after the 14th round by his trainer Eddie Futch.

Although almost rendered blind due to the bruising he had sustained around his eyes, Frazier still pleaded with Futch to be allowed to continue and later revealed he was ready to die in the ring.

It subsequently emerged that Ali was about to quit himself, only to see Frazier's corner act first.

Frazier beat Ali on points in a thrilling contest billed 'Fight of the Century' in 1971 to open the trilogy, but lost a less dramatic second clash in the same manner.

Outside the ring their relationship was equally fractious with Frazier feeling betrayed at being called 'a gorilla' and 'Uncle Tom' by Ali.

Even during his later years the bitterness lingered, as shown in John Dower's 2008 documentary 'Thrilla in Manilla'.

Frazier, a relentless, brawling pressure fighter with a lethal left hook, retired in 1976 after losing a rematch against Foreman.

An attempted comeback five years later was aborted following a draw with the unheralded Jumbo Cummings.

Joe Bugner, another star of the heavyweight division in the 1970s, lost to Frazier five months after being beaten by Ali in 1973.

But it was the fight against Frazier, who visited Bugner in Australia for his 60th birthday last year, which the Hungary-born fighter felt was a turning point in his own career.

"Joe Frazier was relentless," Bugner told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Here was a man about 5ft 10in, he weighed about a stone lighter than myself, but he was so courageous and ferocious, you had to literally hit him with a sledgehammer to put him away.

"In 1973 I was 23 years old. I became a man after that fight because I realised you can't go through a career like boxing without seeing and feeling the power of the greats.

"I happened to have the privilege of fighting Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and a few others but those two to me were the greatest.

"Joe took everything away I thought I had and made me realise I needed more, if I was going to succeed I needed a lot more.

"I'm so proud I fought him and I'm so proud he came to my birthday last year.

"It hit me like a lightning bolt when I heard he died."

British former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis added on 5 Live: "He definitely was legendary and he made a great contribution to boxing.

"I'm so sad for his family. Nobody likes to hear about great heroes passing on. It's very sad for boxing today."

Current light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who like Frazier hails from Philadelphia, also paid his tributes.

"He had great discipline and a strong will to win," he said.

"Joe Frazier is an icon and he will always be remembered that way. My condolences to the entire Frazier family. It's a very sad day in Philadelphia and all over the world.

"To be a fighter with a ring name such as 'Smokin', you're taking a big risk because you must be smokin' with that famous left hook, and he was."