Forty-six years ago today- “The Fight of the Century”- the Boxing Heavyweight Championship of the World- Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier. In the fifty years I have been a sports fan this fight is probably the most anticipated/ hyped sporting event during that time.  Monday night, March 8th, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

I was ten years old and in the fourth grade. It was such a big deal that other guys would come up to you on the playground and ask who you were for. I was for Ali- which seemed to be the right answer to have.{ I recall a bully a couple grades ahead of me walking up to me and asking me who I was for- I had no idea who he was for but I had a 50/50 chance of having the right answer, when I said “Ali” he smiled, I was delighted that I had the correct answer } I can’t imagine what it would be like to have an event like this today. There was no ESPN, no 24 hour a day news cycle. You had the three major networks and newspapers. No internet. The fight wasn’t going to be shown live on television but everyone was excited about it. I certainly doubt that any of the boys who were so wrapped up into the pre-fight hype saw it live.

Smokin’ Joe Frazier was the WBC/WBA Champion. His record was 26-0 with 23 KO’s. The challenger Muhammad Ali was 31-0 with 25 KO’s. Ali was the champion until his title was taken away in 1967 for refusing induction into the armed forces. Frazier had stepped in during Ali’s absence and had won the World Championship.

Like a lot of big sports events this event was bigger than just the sport. Who you were backing in the fight depended in part on your political views. Ali represented the anti-establishment, left-wing. Frazier the conservative, pro war movement.

There are fighters who for some reason just match up well and make for great fights when they face each other. Ali and Frazier’s styles were the exact opposite. Ali was ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, Frazier was put your head down and keep going forward. Ali was fast, Frazier plodding. Frazier was always willing to take a number of punches to get one in.

Each man was guaranteed 2.5 million dollars. Back then that was huge money. Looking at it today it seems like chump change.

How huge was this event? Frank Sinatra was at ringside as a photographer for Life Magazine. Legendary actor Burt Lancaster was the color commentator for the closed-circuit broadcast. Anyone who was anyone was there to see this fight.

The fight itself lived up to the hype. A great fight [although I would choose Ali-Frazier III as the greatest fight I’ve ever seen.} Ali came out strong but Frazier took over in the 4th round. Going into the final -15th round, Ali was behind on all the scorecards and needed a knockout. Frazier landed a left hook and knocked Ali down, the only knock down of the fight. The final decision was unanimous. The judges ruled Frazier 9-6, Frazier 11-4 and Frazier 9-6.  Frazier would retain the Championship. Ali would remain ‘The People’s Champion.”

Frazier would lose the title to George Foreman a couple years later, in 1974 in a non-title fight Ali would win the rematch and then in the “Thrilla In Manila” in 1975 Ali would win the third fight-which was a championship fight. After that fight neither fighter was ever the same fighter -and it could be argued neither was the same man-health wise after that third fight.




Comments are closed.