Northern Ireland

Friend's tribute to 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier

The former world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Frazier, has died.

He was 67 and had been diagnosed with liver cancer. Smokin' Joe Frazier will be forever remembered for defeating Muhammad Ali in the "Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden in 1971.

But one Belfast Olympic boxing coach remembers him not only a great champion but as a decent human being.

Mr Frazier's friend, Gerry Storey, said he was simply "unforgettable".

Speaking as the news broke that the man known affectionately as "Smokin' Joe" had died from liver cancer aged 67, Mr Storey said Frazier never forgot his roots and gave his all.

"You could not say enough about the man and what he did behind the scenes for charity and the appearances that he made.

"He knew what it was like coming through from where he was born," Mr Storey said.

"He never forgot where he came from and was always out there trying to help the kids that he knew were getting it tough in the world.

"He never forgot Belfast and never forgot us - never once did he turn us down."

Mr Storey said meeting Joe was the highlight of any of the young amateur Irish boxers' trips to Philadelphia or Atlantic City.

"We always boxed what we called the 'Joe Frazier Allstars', you just couldn't say enough about the man."

Mr Storey has been Olympic Boxing coach three times, is the head coach at the Holy Family Boxing Club in Belfast and knew Frazier for 30 years.

He himself has won an international award for his work training young boxers through the worst days of the Troubles in Belfast.

Gerry Storey said Frazier's connection with the Holy Family club stretched back to 1982.

Every year he had met up for a meal when the club was in America.

"This year when we were out in Wildwood we knew then he wasn't too well. It was the first time he wasn't able to have the yearly dinner that he always had with us.

"Every year, he never let us down. He always turned up for dinner with us."

On his visits to Belfast, which began with his pop group, the Knock Outs, he found time for the young boxers and for all his many fans.

"You could never have seconded Joe," Mr Storey said.

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