Fight of the Century

Fight of the Century
Fight of the Century
Date March 8, 1971
Title(s) on the line Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship
WBC/WBA Heavyweight Championship

United States Joe Frazier vs. United States Muhammad Ali
Smokin' Joe The Greatest
The Champ
Tale of the tape
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States From Louisville, Kentucky, United States
26-0 (23 KOs) Pre-fight record 31-0 (25 KOs)
WBC/WBA Heavyweight Champion
Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion
Recognition Lineal Champion

Result Frazier won via unanimous decision

Fight of the Century was the promotional nickname given to the first boxing match between champion Joe Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) and challenger Muhammad Ali (31-0, 25 KOs), held on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.[1]


Buildup and media coverage

The two fighters were the subject of numerous magazine cover stories and television documentaries. They were guaranteed purses of US$2.5 million each, then a record for a single prizefight.

Importance and predictions

The fight itself became something of a symbol of the country. Leading up to the fight, Ali (who had denounced the Vietnam War) had refused induction into the U.S. Army in 1967, leading to his being stripped of his title and barred from fighting for three years. Ali became a symbol of the anti-establishment movement,[citation needed]while Frazier became a symbol of the conservative, pro-war movement. (In his autobiography, Frazier said that he didn't fight in the war because he was a father but that he would have fought if drafted because his country had been so good to him.)[citation needed]

Many boxing fans[who?] argued that Ali's speed and ability would blind Frazier, while others[who?] thought Frazier's superior punching power combined with Ali's long absence from the ring would give the advantage to Frazier. On the night of the fight, there were riots in many United States cities, including Chicago, where a whole theater was torn apart by angry attendees who had just learned they would not be able to watch the fight on closed-circuit television.[citation needed]

The fight

By the evening of the match, Madison Square Garden had a circus-like atmosphere, with scores of policemen to control the crowd, outrageously dressed fans, and countless celebrities, from Norman Mailer and Woody Allen to Frank Sinatra, who took photographs for Life magazine. Sinatra of which had to disguise as a journalist to gain access to the sold-out event.[citation needed] Artist LeRoy Neiman painted Ali and Frazier as they fought. Burt Lancaster served as a color commentator for the closed-circuit broadcast. Even though Lancaster had never performed as a sports commentator before, he was hired by the fight's promoter Jerry Perenchio, who was also a friend of his. The other commentators were play-by-play announcer Don Dunphy and boxing champion Archie Moore.

The fight itself exceeded even its promotional hype and went the full 15-round championship distance.[2] Ali dominated the first three rounds, peppering the shorter Frazier with rapier-like jabs that raised welts on the champion's face. Frazier began to dominate in the fourth round, catching Ali with several of his famed left hooks and pinning him against the ropes to deliver tremendous body blows. Ali was visibly tired after the sixth round, and though he put together some flurries of punches after that round, he was unable to keep the pace he had set in the first third of the fight. His speed and combinations kept him on roughly even terms with Frazier, however, and the fight was very close until late in round 11. During that round Frazier caught Ali, backed into a corner, with a crushing left hook that almost floored Ali, sending him falling into the ropes. Ali managed to survive the round, but from then on Frazier seemed to come back in the next three rounds. At the end of round 14 Frazier held a lead on the three scorecards. Early in round 15, Frazier landed a spectacular left hook that put Ali on his back (for only the third time in his career). Ali, his right jaw swollen grotesquely, got up from the blow quickly, and managed to stay on his feet for the rest of the round despite several terrific blows from Frazier. A few minutes later the judges made it official: Frazier had retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss.[3][4]

This was the most crushing defeat for Ali.[5] Ali would not win another world title fight until three and a half years later, on October 30, 1974. The only other time that Ali would challenge for the title and lose was in the Larry Holmes fight, when 38-year-old Ali's corner threw in the towel after the 10th round.

Both men spent time recuperating in a hospital following the grueling fight. Rumors circulated that Frazier had died. Upon hearing the rumors, Ali vowed to retire from boxing if they turned out to be true.

Both boxers are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

See also


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