Today In History: Ali and Frazier Go Head-to-Head In the ‘Fight Of The Century’ (1971)

The Fight of The Century. Boxing Online

On March 8, 1971, heavyweight boxers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali met for what was called “The Fight Of The Century” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Frazier held the heavyweight champion title; Ali was the Ring magazine lineal heavyweight champion. Neither fighter had lost a match at this point.

Fight Of The Century. BET.com

The boxers were equally matched. It was anyone’s guess who might win when pitted against one another. Ali was referred to as the World Heavyweight Champion since his 1964 win against Sonny Liston. Liston had won the title the previous year when he annihilated Floyd Patterson, knocking him out in the first round. The effort earned Liston a reputation for packing a punch so powerful, it was speculated there was no one who could beat him.

Ali’s win against Liston was a tremendous upset in 1964. It stirred interest in the fighter who was as colorful inside the ring as he was outside of it. In 1967, Ali refused induction into the armed services. To punish him, he was stripped of his title by boxing authorities. This made space for Joe Frazier to edge his way up the ladder. He quickly knocked out two opponents, Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis.

The political drama around Ali had created a perfect storm. On one hand, the Fight of the Century put the undefeated Frazier and the undefeated Ali against each other for the title of World Heavyweight Champion. On the other, Ali and Frazier came to symbolize the political divisions in America. Ali’s refusal to serve in the military was cheered by those with liberal ideas.

This automatically cast Frazier as a conservative. The fight suddenly was important to those who were normally disinterested in the sport of boxing. Anticipation for the fight was widespread elsewhere: around the world, millions watched the fight through closed-circuit broadcasting.  

There was a lot of speculation about who might win. Many viewed Frazier as the dominant fighter and viewed Ali’s non-fighting years as a factor against him, more so because of the nature of his greatest abilities rested on lightening speed and dexterity, neither of which would be easy to preserve. Two or three years out of commission could have slowed his reflexes.

Ali’s most recent fight had not gone well. Against Oscar Bonavena, he seemed to struggle to make the journey through 15 rounds. By comparison, Frazier had an unforgivable left hook and was known for launching an aggressive attack against the body of his opponents.

The fight between Ali and Frazier was a spectacular event. It lasted for 15 rounds, with both boxers dominating various segments ,making it an unbelievably equal match. By the end, Frazier’s fierce blows to Ali’s body earned him enough points to walk away with the title. Joe Frazier was now the undisputed champion of the world. 

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