Forty years ago those of us old enough to remember witnessed the beginning of one of the most memorable rivalries in sport –  Joe Frazier defending the heavyweight championship of the world against Muhammad Ali.

It was called ‘The Fight of the Century’ and was the first of a great trilogy in a golden age of when boxing did not need Rocky movies because we had the real thing in the ring.

Smokin Joe won the fight to inflict the first defeat of his career on Ali. It was an epic contest that truly defined Frazier as one of the all time greats.

It is both sobering and heart-warming to hear that Ali is praying for his old rival following  news that Frazier is fighting liver cancer.

“The news about Joe is hard to believe and even harder to accept. Joe has a lot of friends pulling for him – and I’m one of them,” said Ali, who won both the re-matches culminating in the Thrilla in Manilla, the most brutal heavyweight fight of all time.

“Joe is a fighter and a champion and I am praying he is fighting now.”

The former world heavyweight champion added: “My family and I are keeping Joe and his family in our daily prayers.”

Former heavyweight boxer Larry Holmes, who was also Frazier’s sparing partner Frazier, added his support for his old friend when he said: “If you talk about heart, determination, courage, all that good stuff, you’re talking about Joe Frazier. I got my fingers crossed.”