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Smokin' Joe will always be associated with Ali fights

By Greg Duke, CNN
updated 4:42 PM EST, Tue November 8, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joe Frazier will always be associated with his epic trilogy of fights against Mohammad Ali
  • Respected boxing journalist Jeff Powell knew Frazier both inside and outside the boxing ring
  • Powell believe Frazier will go down in history as one of the top 10 heavyweights of all time

(CNN) -- "Joe Frazier is tied forever, almost by an umbilical chord, with Mohammad Ali because they obviously had a famous trilogy of fights, of which the first and the last were epic fights."

The words of respected boxing journalist Jeff Powell.

Powell, a columnist for British newspaper The Mail has covered boxing all over the world and knew 'Smokin' Joe' -- who died on Monday aged 67 after a short battle with liver cancer -- both inside and outside the ring, having reported on his fights during the halcyon period of heavyweight boxing in the early 1970s.

Speaking to CNN Sport following the announcement of Frazier's death, Powell said: "In the American consciousness Joe is seen as the man who defined Ali in many ways.

"The first fight was called 'The Fight of the Century' and took place in Madison Square Garden in 1971. Ali had called Frazier an 'Uncle Tom' before the fight and it bought a racial dimension to it.

When Frazier tore up the script and knocked down Ali, inflicting his first defeat, there were riots all over the country
Jeff Powell

"When Frazier tore up the script and knocked down Ali, inflicting his first defeat, there were riots all over the country."

Powell added: "Frazier was very much part of American folklore and respected around the world. He begrudged for many years the things Ali said about him, not only the 'Uncle Tom' insult, but also calling him a 'gorilla' before their epic 'Thrilla in Manila' in 1975.

"It took Joe a while to get over that -- but he was a nice guy and there is a strong sense of nostalgia about him passing, he is very much part of the fabric of American fight history."

'Iron Mike' reflects on 'Smokin' Joe'
 Joe Frazier and Russian Vadim Yemelyanov fight in a semifinal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Frazier went on to win gold. Joe Frazier and Russian Vadim Yemelyanov fight in a semifinal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Frazier went on to win gold.
Joe Frazier: A Life in Pictures
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Joe Frazier: A Life in Pictures Joe Frazier: A Life in Pictures

The likes of Ali, Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton will go down in history as some of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and Powell concedes that when they were all at the top of their game in the 1970's, the division was stronger than it has ever been.

"I think most people would probably put Joe in the top 10 heavyweights of all time," continued Powell. "He had a fantastic left hook with which he not only knocked Ali down but broke his jaw in the first fight.

"But that was a tremendous heavyweight generation. If you won the world title back then, you did so against very good fighters. Joe took the title off Jimmy Ellis, who was a good fighter and lost it to George Foreman -- who we all know about too.

I think most people would probably put Joe in the top 10 heavyweights of all time. He had a fantastic left hook with which he not only knocked Ali down but broke his jaw
Jeff Powell

"There have been other great generations. Mike Tyson reinvigorated the division in the late 1980s, Evander Holyfield was a huge player and Lennox Lewis was a superb champion as well.

"But at times like this you do look back with a sense of nostalgia and romance. Looking back it probably wasn't too romantic, because it was a tough time, but that's the mood in America at the moment."

Not only was Frazier a world class fighter, but Powell knew him as a kindly man, who sadly ended up in some poverty towards the end of his life.

"Joe was a much simpler, straight-forward character than Ali. He liked the social life and had 11 children but unfortunately he was let down in a land deal which would have made him financially comfortable for life."

Powell added: "He was a little resentful towards the end of his struggles with money. He was the one who didn't make as much as Ali and Foreman, who were the only two men to beat him, and was somewhat overshadowed from the public perspective by his relationship with Ali.

"But he was a formidable fighter in his own right and will always be remembered as the first man to beat Ali. That has bookmarked his place in history."

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