“Fight Of The Century”
By Mary Miller Cullins
It was March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden was packed, and the crowd was ready for a showdown between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The “Fight of the Century” would mark Ali’s return to boxing after his license was revoked for three years for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. It was also Muhammad Ali’s chance to win back the heavyweight championship, which had been stripped by the World Boxing Association.
On the night of the fight, it was said that billions of people were following either in person, on TV, or on the radio. Most of them were cheering for Ali. Celebrities filled Madison Square Garden. Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra sat ringside. The national press referring to Ali called it a “hero’s return.” Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated and had won Olympic gold medals and multiple Golden Gloves.
The fight lived up to the hype. Ali landed more punches and glided around the ring as if he were in the prime of his career. Frazier’s punches, however, seemed to have more impact. By the eighth round, Frazier was leading six rounds to two with each judge. In the 11th round it looked as if Muhammad Ali would go down, but he staggered back, forcing a few more rounds.
The fight was already decided by the 15th round when Frazier landed a left hook to Ali’s right chin, knocking down the champ for the first time in his pro career. Ali got up, but Frazier won the fight by unanimous decision, retaining his title. Mohammad Ali was delivered the first loss of his career.
The fighters fought two more times, in 1974 and 1975, Ali won both fights. The rivalry between these boxers remained so intense, that 20 years after their last fight, when Ali carried the torch at the Olympics in Atlanta, Frazier said (as Ali lit the torch), “If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in.”
“Frazier is so ugly that he could donate his face to the US Buraeu of Wildlife”—Muhammad Ali
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