Smokin’ Joe a knock-out during his trip to Ormeau

By Scott Jamison

The South Belfast MLA who brought boxing great Joe Frazier to the city has paid tribute to the former world heavyweight champion after his death this week.

‘Smokin’ Joe’ (67) died yesterday (Tuesday) after a battle with liver cancer. He was well known for his series of battles with Muhammad Ali, which included handing ‘the Greatest’ his first-ever defeat in the ‘Fight of the Century’ in Madison Square Garden in 1971.

Frazier visited Belfast in April 2003 at the behest of then mayor Alex Maskey. The trip included a quick pint in the Hatfield Bar on the Ormeau Road.

The Sinn Féin politician said this week that Frazier had paid tribute to the city during the two days he was here by taking part in a number of events.

“I was visiting the mayor of Philadelphia and met him through a mutual friend while I was out there. Joe was told I was mayor of Belfast and asked if there was anything he could do for me.

“I said yes, he could come visit Belfast and within weeks he was here, paid for out of his own pocket. He was here for a couple of days and was a total star to work with.

“The best tribute he gave to Belfast was when he told me the city had made him feel like a world champion again while he was here.”

Mr Maskey said Smokin’ Joe visited several nearby locations while in South Belfast.

“I brought him to the Hatfield Bar without any announcement and within minutes there was a long queue of people coming in for autographs and photographs with him. One of the pictures taken on the night still hangs in the bar.

“I also brought him to the City Hospital to visit a young boxing fan who had been struck down with cancer and who sadly passed away shortly after. He spent quite a while there talking to patients, doctors, other staff and visitors and indeed we couldn’t get him out in the end because so many people wanted to have their picture taken with him.

“I was conscious of the fact he would be tired from all the events but it was a measure of the man that he never once complained. In fact he said to me that while he was here, he was mine to use how I wanted.”

Coming from a famous boxing family himself, Mr Maskey said Frazier was a hero and would be remembered as one of the all-time greats in the sport.

“I subsequently met him on a number of occasions back in the States and he was an absolute legend.

“He was one of the best heavyweights in history and will be remembered for his toughness.

“But those who knew him away from the ring also knew he was a very modest and humble man with it.”

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