Boxing mourned former undisputed heavyweight champ Joe Frazier this year, while the Klitschko brothers completed their domination of the division to hold all the major belts.
Frazier died in Philadelphia last month after a brief battle with liver cancer. He was 67.
“Smokin’ Joe” captured two major heavyweight titles in his career and famously beat Muhammad Ali in New York in 1971 in a bout dubbed “The Fight of the Century.”
He was a huge part of the heyday of boxing’s heavyweight division in the 1970s and finished his stellar career with 32 wins (27 knockouts), four losses and one draw. All four losses came at the hands of just two other legendary fighters from that era: Ali and George Foreman.
Tributes to Frazier came from across the weight categories, with multiple world champion Manny Pacquiao acknowledging the loss of a “great champion and ambassador.”
“The world has lost a great champion,” Ali said. “I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.”
Ali’s and Frazier’s trilogy of fights had the world transfixed.
Frazier, the quiet former farmhand from South Carolina, was the first man to silence Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
His unanimous 15-round victory was watched by an estimated global TV audience of 300 million, with Frazier’s classic left hook flooring Ali in the last round.
Ali took his revenge at the Garden in 1974, with their third meeting coming the following year in the “Thrilla in Manila.”
It was in this epic, brutal slugfest in crippling conditions that Frazier cemented his place as one of the greatest champions the ring has ever known, his trainer Eddie Futch having to step in to halt the show after the 14th round.
Despite being barely able to stay on his feet, Frazier begged to come out for the 15th round.
Ali described the experience as “the closest thing to dying that I know of.”
This may have been the last time they raised their gloves in anger at each other, but their sparring continued out of the ring for years after. Frazier, bitter at articulate Ali’s personal taunts, was unable to shed the scars of being called “Uncle Tom” and “gorilla,” once suggesting that his old nemesis’ struggles with Parkinson’s were God’s way of punishing him for his behavior out of the ring.
However, in 2009 Frazier told Sports Illustrated that he had forgiven his old rival.
Brothers Vitali, the WBC champion, and Wladimir Klitschko now dominate the heavyweight division.
Wladimir finally silenced David Haye’s taunts to relieve the brash Briton of his WBA belt to add to his collection of IBF, WBO and IBO crowns.
The eagerly anticipated clash in July was marked by Haye’s pre-fight taunts threatening to expose Klitschko as a “fraud” and to dismantle the “Ukrainian robot” he maligned in the build-up to the unification bout.
Haye’s promises proved to be empty and, hampered by a broken toe, he failed to get behind Klitschko’s impressive defense and the Ukrainian won the fight unanimously.
As promised, Haye celebrated his 31st birthday in October by retiring, but he is in talks with Vitali to climb back in the ring.
“If a fight comes against Haye, I will knock him out,” promised Vitali, who first faces Britain’s Dereck Chisora in Munich on Feb. 18. “Then there will be no questions left. David is the best in the world: not as a boxer, but as a loudmouth.”