“The news about Joe is hard to believe and even harder to accept. Joe is a fighter and a champion and I am praying he is fighting now,” said Ali, in a widely-quoted message.
“My family and I are keeping Joe and his family in our daily prayers. Joe has a lot of friends pulling for him and I’m one of them.”
Ali has often called Frazier the toughest opponent of his career, having engaged him over the course of a trilogy that included “The Fight of the Century in 1971,” as well as, “Thrilla in Manila” rubbermatch in 1975.
The “Thrilla” was described by Ali as “the closest thing to death” for him.
Frazier was the first man to beat Ali, knocking him down and taking a decision in their first encounter in 1971, a fight which earned a then-record purse of $2.5 million for each of the fighters.
Frazier won the heavyweight title in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round of their fight at Madison Square Garden.
Frazier defended it successfully four times before George Foreman knocked him down six times in the first two rounds to take the title from him in 1973. Frazier would never be heavyweight champion again.
A 67-year-old former undisputed titleholder, Frazier was diagnosed four or five weeks ago, according to his personal and business manager, Leslie Wolff, who told the Associated Press on Saturday that doctors have not yet told Frazier how long he has to live.
Wolff, who has been Frazier’s manager for seven years, said the boxer had been in out of the hospital since early October and receiving hospice treatment the last week.
Wolff told the AP that Frazier sleeps for most the day, is coherent when awake and has been flooded with get-well messages from former boxers and fans. Some fans have offered to donate a liver, Wolff told the AP.
“There is evidence that there are certain people that fight much harder than other people, and in doing so, they last longer,” said Wolff on Monday.
“They have the heart of a champion. Joe ain’t no quitter. Even in this struggle, he’s showing people you don’t give up.”
The documentary “Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears” will be screened Tuesday night at the DocNYC festival in New York, according to AP.
Frazier’s illness was first reported by the New York Post, citing an unidentified source.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org