On March 8, 1971 “Smokin Joe” beat the undefeated record of “The Greatest” in NY in the first of their three memorable fights.
Those who witnessed it on site and have survived the inexorable passage of time and those who have seen it on video have the full conviction that there has never been and never will be a bigger, more memorable and more interesting fight in the history of the discipline as that of March 8, 1971. The fight between the mythical and Muhammad Ali, the “Big Mouth”, who moved non-stop in the ring, with his arms hanging down next to his body, and the fighter “Smokin Joe” Frazier, king of the left hook; both undefeated, the best heavyweights of the time, unreconcilable enemies in and out of the ring, both Olympic champions, the first in Rome-60, the other in Tokyo-64.
The mentioned fight is placed above the 1975 “The Thrilla In Manila” between Ali and Foreman in Kinshasa in October 74, and it is superior in emotions to the also historical fights between Ray “Sugar” Leonard-Wilfredo Benitez, Leonard against Roberto Durán or Carlos Monzón against Rodrigo Valdés, just to mention a few.
The reference, is related to that fight held in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the old mecca of boxing, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Monday the 8th, packed with some 20 thousand spectators including, celebrities, like movie stars Frank Sinatra (official photographer for Time magazine), Burt Lancaster (commentator), Woody Allen and the writer Norman Mailer, who narrated it, among many others.
Five months earlier Ali had returned to the ring after a three and a half year enforced absence, since 1967, when he lost the title for refusing to join the army to serve in Vietnam. He had first won the title on February 25, 1964 by KOT in the sixth against Sonny Liston and defended it 8 times before the legal stripping, when he was at his peak. In his comeback he defeated Jerry Quarry in three rounds on October 26, ’70 and on points to the Argentine Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena on July 12, 1970.
On that March 8, Ali, 1.91 high and 10 centimeters taller than his opponent, came up at 212 pounds (96.166 kilos), wearing red trunks and with a record of 31-0, 26 by KO while 29 years old to face Frazier, 205, 5 pounds (93.213 kilos), dressed in green and gold, 27 years old and with a record of 26-0-0, 23 knockouts, owner of the WBA and WBC belts that had belonged to Cassius Clay, and that he had won from Jimmy Ellis in February of the previous year.
When the opening bell rang, an estimated 300 million people were in front of their TV sets, watching Ali dominate the first three rounds before being rocked and nearly dropped in the fourth round by one of Frazier’s devastating left hooks.
The next few rounds were a true war to death, it was a fight of relentless action from both sides with the champion holding a slight advantage. Ali would not take a step back, except to evade Frazier’s relentless attacking blows from both hands, and in round 15 he “caught” Muhammad with his deadly left hook cross. The challenger collapsed like a bundle and although he got up precariously 8 seconds after the count, everything had already been decided, in case there was any doubt, with that knockdown.
According to the round-by-round scoring system, Frazier won the unanimous decision: referee Arthur Mercante gave 8 rounds to Foreman and 6 to Ali, while judges Artie Aidala and Bill Retch voted 9-6 and 11-4, respectively. It is worth adding that the two fighters went to such lengths in pursuit of victory that both were in the hospital for several days, highly compensated for this incident with a purse, unthinkable at the time, of $2.5 million for each of them.
Three years later Ali and Frazier met for the second time, exactly on January 28, 1974 and the former took revenge in a non-title fight by unanimous decision in the same Madison and in a third fight Ali again finished with his arm raised in the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, when his opponent could not answer the bell for the 15th final round, surrendered by the hard fight and by the 40 degrees Celsius temperature. A couple of seconds later Ali collapsed in his corner.
Ali, the only three-time title holder of the heavyweight division (1964-74-78) retired after 21 years (1960-81). He went 56-5-0, 37 knockouts, one against and passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of 74 due to respiratory complications aggravated by Parkinson’s disease diagnosed in 1984. Frazier fought from 1965-81 and left a record of 32(27)-4 (3 KO)-1. He died of liver cancer on November 7, 2011, at age 67 in his native Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.