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Remembering Joe Frazier: Ali-Frazier I, March 8, 1971

Image Courtesy: Time
Image Courtesy: Time
Dan LevyNational Lead WriterNovember 8, 2011

Joe Frazier passed away on Monday after a month-long battle with liver cancer. The Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion of the world was 67 years old, passing in a Center City, Philadelphia apartment while under hospice care.

That's not how we'll remember Joe Frazier. Frazier was as tough as they come, born as one of 12 children in rural South Carolina, without the benefits of plumbing or electricity. Frazier honed his left hook when he was just a boy, helping his father, who had lost his left arm after being shot.

"When I was a boy, I used to pull a big cross saw with my dad. He'd use his right hand, so I'd have to use my left," Mr. Frazier once said. After watching boxing on TV with his father, he filled a burlap sack with a brick, rags, corncobs, and moss, then hung it from a tree.

"For the next six, seven years damn near every day I'd hit that heavy bag for an hour at a time," he wrote in his 1996 autobiography.

Frazier left South Carolina when he was just a teenager, taking root in Philadelphia where he worked in a meat packing plant. You know the scenes in Rocky where the Philadelphia-bred boxer is fighting against large cuts of meat? That was Joe Frazier, in real life.

Smokin' Joe Frazier went on to win three national Golden Gloves titles and the 1964 Olympic gold medal before eventually—with some struggles in his life in between—winning the heavyweight championship of the world.

Frazier won the title while Muhammad Ali was banned from the sport, so many people looked at his title reign as somewhat in complete, until the two faced off in 1971 in the first of three epic fights between two of the greatest champions the sport had ever seen.

While not born in Philadelphia, Frazier certainly embodied everything about his city's spirit all the way until his passing. His grit and determination, which turned him into a champion and a legend, will be missed.

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