The LA fight that helped make Joe Frazier a champ

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Joe Frazier died Monday night after a brief battle with liver cancer at the age of 67. Frazier fought and won four times at Los Angeles's Olympic Auditorium early in his pro career. One of those fights in 1966 put Frazier on the road to the heavyweight title.

After he’d won an Olympic gold medal and turned pro, heavyweight Joe Frazier pounded his first 11 opponents. But then young Oscar Bonavena floored him twice; Frazier escaped with a split decision.

Next, Frazier came to L.A. to take on the most experienced boxer he’d ever faced: California’s Eddie Machen, who’d nearly beaten Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson years earlier. Frazier needed a big win.

Nov. 21, 1966: A sellout crowd at the Olympic Auditorium, with the overflow watching closed-circuit TV at the Sports Arena. Frazier ended Round 1 by punching Machen through the ropes and out of the ring. It went like that for nine more rounds.

San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Jack Fiske told his readers that Frazier, who’d trained to be a butcher, “treated Machen like a side of beef.” The L.A. win over Machen began six years of tough and skilled opponents; Frazier flattened them all.

One of Frazier's most notable fights was with Muhammad Ali in 1971 in the Fight of the Century at Madison Square Garden. A vicious left hook got Frazier the win in the 15th round of the fight.

They fought three times, twice in the heart of New York City and once in the morning in a steamy arena in the Thrilla in Manila in the Philippines. They went 41 rounds together. Neither gave an inch and both gave it their all.

"I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration," Ali said in a statement. "My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones."

Born in Beaufort, S.C., on Jan. 12, 1944, Frazier took up boxing early after watching weekly fights on the black and white television on his family's small farm. He was a top amateur for several years, and became the only American fighter to win a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo despite fighting in the final bout with an injured left thumb.

Frazier's death was announced in a statement by his family, who asked to be able to grieve privately and said they would announce "our father's homecoming celebration" as soon as possible.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame announced its flags in Canastota, N.Y., will fly at half-staff in memory of Frazier. Frazier was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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