“The world has lost a great champion,” Ali said. “I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.”

The pair met three times between March 1971 and Oct 1975 and the first and last bouts are still regarded as two of the finest fights in heavyweight history.

Other boxing identities also paid tribute to the man known as ‘Smokin’ Joe.

“Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend,” George Foreman wrote on Twitter.

Foreman later told the BBC: “Joe Frazier was the most amazing fighter. He never stood more than 5ft 10 in but he had every big man in boxing afraid of the little guys, he was such a terror. Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, we were big guys but when we got into a ring with Joe Frazier we had to have respect – and move.”

Bernard Hopkins, the oldest world champion in boxing history at 46, said Frazier was a role model for him  : “Two or three years ago, everybody was asking why I was fighting. Joe said you fight as long as you feel you can do it and win with dignity.”

And Vitali Klitschko, WBC champion, said: “He was a huge fighter, champion, personality. His fights were a great lesson for all new generations.”

Frazier was a fearsoe fighter who recorded 32 wins in his 37 professional bouts from 1968 to 1976, and yet he was a small heavyweight by modern standards, just 5ft 11in tall and weighing 15st 7 lbs.
“He was relentless,” said Joe Bugner, who lost on points to him in 1973. “He was so courageous and ferocious, you had to hit him with a sledgehammer to put him away.”

Legendary promoter Don King said: “Smokin’ Joe Frazier was the embodiment of what a great heavyweight champion and person should be. He was a great gladiator. I was proud to have known and promoted him.”