Ali bids final farewell to Smokin’ Joe

Joe Frazier was yesterday remembered as a great heavyweight champion and a Phildalelphia city icon at a funeral attended by his long-time rival Muhammad Ali.

Former heavyweight champions Ali and Larry Holmes and promoter Don King were among those to pay respects at the private funeral. The 67-year-old Frazier died last week after a short battle with liver cancer.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, who led stirring and moving tributes at the service in the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, asked fans to stand and “show your love” for Frazier.

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For the only time in the service, which lasted for more than two hours, Ali rose and vigorously clapped for his fallen rival.

Wearing a dark suit and sunglasses, Ali held hands for assistance in and out of the church.

Mike Tyson, Donald Trump and actor Mickey Rourke also sent videotaped messages of condolences.

Frazier will be eternally linked with Ali thanks to their 1970s fights. In a series of three bouts, ‘Smokin’ Joe won the first fight before Ali took the second and third in a series of matches ranked among the most famous in the history of the sport.

In their last fight in Manila in 1975, they traded punches with a fervour that seemed unimaginable among heavyweights. Frazier gave almost as good as he got for 14 rounds, then had to be held back by trainer Eddie Futch as he tried to go out for the final round, unable to see.

“Closest thing to dying that I know of,” Ali said afterwards.

Ali, however, was as merciless with Frazier out of the ring as he was inside it when both boxers were at their peak. Nevertheless, he respected him as a fighter and in later years spoke of his regret for mocking him. While it is questionable whether Frazier ever forgave him, Ali also once stated: “If God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting alongside me.”

Following Frazier’s death last week, he added: “I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.” With yesterday’s actions he underlined that respect.

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The Rev Jackson made a case for Philadephia to honour Frazier, comparing him to a real-life version of boxing film legend ‘Rocky’, portrayed in movies by Sylvester Stallone – of whom there is a statue in the city.

“Rocky is an imaginary figure who never existed,” said Jackson. “Rocky never tasted his own blood. Rocky never faced Ken Norton. He never faced Ali. He never faced Larry Holmes.

“Joe paid real dues and he is a guy who we can emulate because of his sense of family, an ordinary Joe with extraordinary things. He remained our neighbour. He remained a church member. He remained a guy from the streets, so Philadelphia will honor itself by honouring Joe Frazier, but better late than never.”

When asked how Frazier should be remembered, Jackson replied: “As a great boxing champion and a great humanitarian. A boxing champion because he won the gold medal, because he was the real world champion, because he did not inherit, he earned it.”

Also paying tribute yesterday was Frazier’s daughter Renar Frazier-Martin – one of 11 children and 28 grandchildren of Frazier’s – who said she would remember him for “always being there for his children, especially because when you have 11 kids, it’s hard. But he’s always been there for all of us, and the grandkids and family.”