Written by Tré Berry III | 03/08/2021
Don’s Picture Collection
Are we looking at the single greatest sporting event of all time here❓ perhaps so….after all, it showcased two legendary Heavyweights, and a rivaling 📻backstory, during an era where expression within the black community became a paramount staple, and both men went about conveying their thoughts and themselves in contrasting ways.
The great Muhammad Ali (31-0-0, 26KO👊) was on a mission after making his return back to the sport, after his boxing license was taken away due to his reasoning as to why he refused to partake in the Vietnam War. Subsequently, as a result of his decision, he was stripped of his ♛RING, WBA and WBC Titles, and was no longer deemed as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion – 📍A moniker that he had held onto for three years, during a nine title defense stint, one that he breezed through as a virtually untouched commodity as he had no equal between the four ring posts.
As Ali’s departure from boxing became a reality, the titles became vacant, made available for the next King to stand up. “Smokin” Joe Frazier (26-0-0, 23KO👊), after winning a Gold-Medal at the 1964 ◯◯◯◯◯🇯🇵Tokyo Olympics – quickly blazed a trail through the competition at the pro ranks, and put himself into position for a shot at the Undisputed Heavyweight Title. During the post-Ali era, it was Jimmy Ellis who would first win that vacant WBA belt after he defeated 🇦🇷Oscar Bonavena, and it was Ellis that Frazier would have to get through in order to fully take over the helm, to hold the mantle. The match between Ellis and Frazier for the WBA crown, also had the vacant WBC and vacant RING Heavyweight belts thrown into the pot, to get a singular Champion to represent the Heavyweight division. After the conclusion of their 4th round skirmish, Ellis was unable to come out for the 5th round 🛎️bell due to accumulation of punishment, and Joe Frazier had his dream realized, as he became the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World…..well…by proxy that is.
While Frazier held the belts, the Undisputed claim was disputed, due to the fact that Ali had never lost in the ring while he was sitting on the throne, and only lost his status due to being stripped, so the set up was in place, to where the new Champion Frazier, could face the old (old as in previous) Champion Ali, so that they could settle the score to see who the true King was after the dust would officially settle.
THE WIDESPREAD IMPACT MUHAMMAD ALI VS. JOE FRAZIER – ON A GLOBAL SCALE
Each fighter was paid a whopping 💵2.5M back in 1971, which was the highest amount of money ever paid to anyone via any form of entertainment, thus highlighting the value of the fight on the mainstream circuit. Upwards to 300 million people 🌎worldwide tuned in to watch, and it was broadcast in 12 languages to make the necessary accommodations.
THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY – AS IT WAS BILLED, AND AS IT ENDED UP HAPPENING
Set the scene, March 8th, 1971, on a Monday night (yes, this bout was fought on a Monday). The venue was 🏟️Madison Square Garden, and it hosted a packed house of 20,000 people – most of them being eager, anticipating fans looking to see history…and the who’s who of A-List celebrities driving, and flying out to sit front row for “The Fight“, names such as revered singer 🎙️Frank Sinatra, trumpeter 🎺Miles Davis, film director 📽️Woody Allen, and many, many more.
It would seem inconceivable that fight anticipation and expectation of this magnitude would be impossible to match center ring, but somehow, what was about to take place would do just that…if not, SUCCEED them. As legendary Referee 🕴🏻Arthur Mercante Sr. gave the fighters their pre-fight instructions, the tension was palpable, as these two great men were about to go to battle. The talking was over, now the public would get to see who the better man was that night.
Both fighters came out hot, with Ali putting extra sting behind the jab and the left hook while bouncing on his toes, while the Champion Frazier maniacally bobbed and weaved his way up, ripping a few scintillating left hooks that bounced off of Muhammad’s jaw. Frazier lived in Ali’s kitchen, as he sidestepped Ali’s early jab attack to get to where he needed to be to thrive. Ali in round two decided to stand in with Joe a little more to make his jab more authoritative. Frazier’s tenacity 📈increased, and although he ate a couple of blistering 1-2 combinations from the rangier Ali, it didn’t stop Joe in his tracks on his ascent.
The third round, both fighters worked their way into full groove. Ali decided the best way to catch the cross-armed, crouching Frazier was to rip an uppercut to the chin, with the intent being to catch Joe’s chin while on the way dipping down. Frazier went on a heavy body assault, and wobbled Muhammad at the end of the round with a hellacious left hook upstairs.
Round 4, Ali began ripping more 2-3 combinations, mixing his up sequences, and flickered the piercing jab out there to give himself a little bit of breathing room between him, and the determined Champion. As good as Ali was though, he was a sucker for getting hit with the 💪🏿left hook, and that just so happened to be Frazier’s greatest weapon, 📌perhaps possessing a better left hook than any other Heavyweight in history – before and after. Frazier took full advantage of that from round 4, and on.
Ali at the start of the 🛎️5th round bell, finally started to fight his type of fight, and got on his toes to box, to use the real-estate of the ring, and to get Joe to chase him around. Frazier, always in impeccable shape, put more emphasis in closing the gap. With his confidence sky high, Joe resorted to talking back to the gift-of-gab master in Ali, looking to humiliate him, making him miss….and boy, NOBODY made Ali miss, but there was a 5-6-7 punch sequence where Ali came up with nothing but air.
Joe in round 6 started to wing the left hook with full power to the head and to the body, and Ali didn’t seem to take them all that well. Ali did possess a 🪨granite-chin, but even a chin can have its limits when 🔨sledgehammers keep coming at you. The 7th round, Ali put forth some of his best work since the early stages of the fight. The 8th round was an interesting one, with Ali taking a break on the ropes, seemingly exhausted, while Frazier relentlessly threw lighter punches, and mixed in an occasional heavy one to lull Ali to sleep and catch him off-guard.
Frazier at the end of the round, literally pulled Ali off the ropes with both of his gloves to get him back to the center of the ring, which is one of the most symbolic moments of the match-up (in my opinion), as it indicated that no matter what was going to go down, that Frazier would 📈rise up to the challenge, to invoke himself as the boss inside of the ring – in all skirmishes.
Round 9, Frazier went to work, while Ali’s activity rate started to slow by this point. Round 10 featured much of the same, with Frazier pressing harder on the gas pedal, to dig deeper for the tools needed to take over Ali, who was showing some vulnerabilities by this point.
Round 11, Ali came out a bit more invigorated, ripping the uppercut and going back to his 3rd round strategy. Frazier did a good job of keeping Ali in the corner, then Frazier landed a 💥monster left hook that buckled the legs of Muhammad, and Ali staggered into the ropes. Frazier wailed away on him the final ⌚20 seconds of the round, and although Ali survived the onslaught, Frazier had damaged him there in a way that wasn’t seen prior in Ali’s career.
Round 12, Ali seemed to continue to carry the hurt that was inflicted upon him in the previous round, and Joe stepped up his movement, making Ali miss, which further sapped his stamina, and Frazier continued to belt him with right hands and left hooks upstairs. Round 13, both dug deep to start off fast, with Ali stringing together 1-2-3 combinations, and Frazier answering fire with fire. It was certainly one of the best rounds of this super main event, as it was grueling action that reached a feverish pitch.
Frazier by round 14, had a completely disfigured mug, with heavy swelling on the entire left side of his face, and significant swelling over the 👁️left eye from the heavy accumulation of piercing shots that Ali connected with, but as Joe was in terrible physical shape by this point, NOTHING was going to stop the Philly-tough fighter from his destiny. Ali was at his meanest in the 14th round, understanding that it was go-time in these Championship rounds, with the fight seemingly in the balance.
The famous 🛎️15th round was a doozy. Early in the round, Frazier landed the 🖼️picture-perfect left hook 💣bomb that connected to Ali’s jaw, and put him down to the canvas.
The great Ali was on the canvas searching for something, his identity, and got up at the count of 4 despite getting his jaw broken by that shot that had put him on his backside. A shot like that from Frazier would have ended the night of any other fighter, but Ali too shares that moment with Frazier’s greatness, as somehow he endured it to get back on his feet. Ali’s shtick was largely predicated on being pretty, but make no mistake about it, he was a pitbull behind the exterior, and he showed that throughout this fight.
As they got back to action, you could see the physically battered, more determined than ever Joe Frazier constantly rake Ali with power shots, and a half minute after the knockdown, landed what I would argue was the best punch of the fight landed, a massive left hook that stopped Ali in his tracks. Ali looked like he was ready to go, but somehow stood up to that. While Ali wanted to fight back at full capacity, he was too damaged by that point to do so, while Joe continued to 💨smoke until the 15th and final bell bang.
The two great men had fought a full fight. Ali once during the fight, in an attempt to control, and scare Joe with mind tactics, told Joe 🗣️“you know, you’re in with God tonight”. Frazier, as bold and brazen as any Heavyweight Champion before, and after him, met Ali with a reply back, saying 🗣️“if you are God, you’re in the wrong place tonight”, and Joe stuck to his guns and did what he had to do, taking it to the great former Champion, and getting the better of him on this night, when the 💡lights were at their brightest. A decision was ready to be revealed by Ring-Announcer Johnny Addie. Arthur Mercante as the acting Ref, shared duel responsibilities, as he was tabbed to be a Judge for this fight. Artie Adala and Bill Recht were the other two Judges on assignment, and by way of 📝Unanimous Decision, Joe Frazier had picked up the greatest win of his career, and had just capped off the pinnacle moment of his life.
Neither was the same fighter, or man after this fight, and even though Joe Frazier was the one who came out victorious in this historic event, he took the worse for wear of the two. Joe’s grit, tenacity, and penchant to walk through punishment, took some years off of his life, and put his health in jeopardy to get the job done. After his victory, he was a 🐚shell of what he used to be at his 🔝best, although still great, but he pulled deep from his reservoir of determination, grit, and skill, and threw it all into one night. We would only see Frazier return to some semblance of that ⛰️peak form in he and Ali’s grudge match in the “Thrilla in Manilla”.
Joe effectively shut the “Louisville Lip” up. Ali, embarrassed, needed to be humbled a little bit, given the way that he treated Joe up till the fight and how he carried himself, but he took the loss in stride. What did Ali do? he did what every great Champion does…he bounced back, and continued to deliver great performances that were embedded into the minds of the public….but as for the moment, that took place on 🗓️March 8th, 1971, it strictly belonged to Philly’s finest, Smokin’ Joe.
THE NOTABLE AWARDS AND ACCOLADES ASSOCIATED WITH THIS HISTORIC BOUT
The war both great men provided for us was awarded 📝1971 Ring-Magazine Fight of the Year, as well as Frazier racking up 📝1971 Fighter of the Year, by the same publication. The vaunted 15th round also took home 📝Round of the Year honors as well.
INTERESTING TIDBITS ON ALI VS. FRAZIER
– The fight was fought on a Monday (03/08/1971)
– The fight amassed half the viewers than the historic video feed of the 🌑moon landing did back in 1969, which given the impact of the moon landing, is an extremely impressive feat for the boxers.
– This was the first time that two unbeaten Heavyweights fought in a World Title fight
– Ali, normally good with predictions, predicted a 6th round KO over Joe.
– Due to the tension between the two, both Ali & Frazier had to have separate weigh-ins
– A rumor circulated that Joe Frazier died after the fight, and it came across Ali’s ears. When he heard the rumor, Ali began to panic, and started to pray for Joe. Ali also reportedly said that if something happened to Joe Frazier, that he would never box again.
– Joe Frazier lost a total 10 lbs. during his 15 round bout, that lasted an hour.