Little Bits of History

March 8

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 8, 2017

1971: Smokin’ Joe meets The Greatest at Madison Square Garden. Billed at the Fight of the Century, Joe Frazier (26-0 with 23 KOs) and Muhammad Ali (31-0 with 25 KOs) battled for the title of Heavyweight Champion. It was the first time two undefeated boxers fought for the heavyweight title. Frazier was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1944, making him 27 at the time of the fight. Ali, born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, was 29 at the time of the fight.

Both men had legitimate claims to the title prior to the fight. Ali had won the title from Sonny Liston in Miami Beach in 1964 and successfully defended it until he was stripped of the honor by the boxing authorities after refusing to enter the US armed forces in 1967. While Ali was absent from the boxing scene, Frazier won two championships, both by knock outs. He first beat Buster Mathis and then Jimmy Ellis. Frazier was recognized at the world champion by boxing authorities of the time.

The hype before the match was intense as Frazier was seen as possibly better than The Greatest. Ringside tickets were sold for $150 (or about $800 today) and each contestant was guaranteed $2.5 million for the fight. The stadium held 20,455 fans for a gate of $1.5 million and millions more watched on closed-circuit TV around the world. Ali was known for his speed and dexterity and would often predict in which round he would knock his opponent out. Prior to his fight on this night, he had been struggling. Frazier had a wicked left hook and was known for not quitting. Even though he was dealing with high blood pressure before the match, he was seen as being in peak condition.

Frazier, 5’ 11.5” and 205 pounds, met Ali, 6’ 3” and 215 pounds, before a star-studded crowd. Tickets were so difficult to get, Frank Sinatra worked as a photographer for Life magazine and Burt Lancaster was an announcer for the closed-circuit fans. The fight itself exceeded all expectations and went the full 15 rounds for a championship fight. Ali led for the first 3 rounds and then Frazier landed a left hook which snapped Ali’s head backwards. In the last round, Frazier landed yet another hook shot which put Ali on his back. Ali managed to get up and stay on his feet for the rest of the round. Frazier won with a unanimous decision and Ali had his first professional loss. Over his lifetime, Frazer had 37 fights, won 32 (27 by KO), 4 losses, and 1 draw. Ali managed 61 fights, won 56 (37 by KO) and 5 losses.

Since I was a boy of five or six, I had it in my mind I would be a world boxing champion. – Joe Frazier

Ali even told me in the ring, ‘You can’t beat me – I’m your Lord.’ I just told him, ‘Lord, you’re in the wrong place tonight.’ – Joe Frazier

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. – Muhammad Ali

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali

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