Even now, the film of Frazier Vs Ali 1 still faithfully appears as clear as a bell, with not a flicker, or fuzz…so much so, that you pinch yourself and wonder was it really fought half a century ago?
But as Janis Ian sang in her Song – At Seventeen: “It was long ago and far away, the World was younger than today.”
Lean hard superbly honed bodies engaged in perpetual fight motion for the full scintillating fifteen rounds. Fight of the Century was fought at a pace that we just don`t see in the heavyweight sphere or realm nowadays.
The hallowed epithet Fight of the Century has been carelessly banded about and loosely applied to quite a few barn burners and tear ups over the years, but Ali Vs Frazier 1, is the ONLY one which genuinely deserves this classic accolade. The fitting setting was Madison Square Garden. Ominously the ropes were sombre black as were the gloves.
Ali who normally wore pristine white trunks had chosen brash red, piped with white. Joe, in lime green with a canary yellow trimming, resembling a strip of casino wallpaper. The forecast for March 8th 1971, was cumulus clouds emitting rumblings of thunder followed by flashes of lightning. All the elements and ingredients were there, but to be frank, no one including Tom, Dick or Harry could have anticipated or predicted just how great it was going to be!
Gil Clancy in Joe`s corner said: “The electricity in the air was just unbelievable.” Writer John Condon stated: “The greatest fight I`ve ever worked on in my life.” Referee Arthur Mercante Sr said afterwards: “They threw some of the best punches I`ve ever seen.”
Twenty thousand fans were there on the edge of their seats. More than three hundred million around the World saw and enjoyed it in twelve languages, as the viewing rights were sold to fifty countries. It rivalled the Moon landing!
Ali`s ego was soaring, but couldn`t quite match that of writer Norman Mailer. Woody Allen who was also in attendance, once said that Norman had donated his ego to The Smithsonian! Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore were at hand. Frank Sinatra couldn`t get a ringside seat, but ingeniously persuaded Life Magazine to let him take photos from the snappers` pit vantage point. Now that`s singing wicked!
Don Jose Sulaiman who was there too, described it as the most incredible event. He also brilliantly and perceptively observed that Joe Frazier was physically by far the toughest man he`d ever known, yet also the most fragile concerning insults or slights.
Hard times form hard men. As a youngster Joe had broken his left arm, but the family couldn`t afford a doctor, so it was set in a splint rather than Plaster of Paris and didn`t heal properly. Joe could never again fully straighten that arm, but oh boy did it form a perfect spring coiled left hook. Having to fend for himself by the time he was just fifteen, Joe had come up the tough way in comparison to Muhammad Ali.
After the US Army Induction row, Joe had given isolated Ali a lift from down south to up north, but once Ali was recognized and started theatrically yelling at Joe, the two parted company on somewhat acrimonious terms. To cut a long story short, Joe turfed him out of his car!
Not unsurprisingly Joe resented it deeply, when Ali called him too ugly to be the champion. As he said, what hurt him much more than the punches, were his children coming home from school crying because of the teasing, which had spread into their lives. Regrettably it had caused collateral damage. Years later Ali apologized, but it forever rankled with Joe. He couldn`t forgive. He couldn`t forget. Very sad, because although could be a rascal, Ali was never a scambogah.
During the fight Ali was talking to Joe saying: “Don`t you know I`m God, to which Joe stoically snapped: “Well God…you`re going to get a whipping tonight,” and he really meant it.
Until that iconic moment in history, neither man had experienced the pungently bitter taste of defeat. They knew it not. They were both heavyweight champions of the World. One had been stripped while the other had earned his stripes.
Sadly, we never saw the zenith of Ali. He had been stripped of the title by the US Government for refusing to be drafted into the Army at the height of the Viet Nam War. Three and a half years elapsed before the US Supreme Court relented and gave him back his license to work.
Decades later, a Mexican reporter annoyed Laila Ali, asking her if she too would have refused the draft. She testily pointed out that women were not required to join the ranks. But then she paused for a moment, brightened and flashed that famous smile so reminiscent of her father, replying that she so admired his principled courage.
How supplicant and conveniently easy it would have been to have fallen in line, towed the line, saluted, gone with the grain and got on the train. If he had done this, Ali would never have fired a shot, or been within one hundred miles of the front line. Instead of war, he said his piece, stuck to his guns and paid such a heavy and lasting career price.
The Ali who nimbly climbed into the ring for this blockbuster was a markedly different fighter than before his ban. His blinding quicksilver speed had lost its edge. Physically fully matured he was stronger but he was slower.
Two comeback fights against Jerry Quarry and tough as nails Oscar Bonavena hadn`t been enough to prepare him for the pending onslaught of Joe, who he`d nagged and needled into a seething, incandescent, yet controlled slow fuse burning rage.
Arthur Mercante Sr was the Referee and simultaneously one of the three Judges. No niceties or study round. No inflection, rather infliction. Ali peppered Joe with some stinging left jabs followed by some jarring rights. But Joe was a man possessed. He clobbered Ali with hell bent left hooks to the head, which drew gasps from the crowd. Ali won the first two rounds, but Joe had already zeroed in on the target, by walking down the range.
In the closing seconds of round three a huge left hook snapped back Ali`s head. The fight further intensified in round four with Joe going downstairs, unleashing crunching rib bending hooks into Ali`s body. Commentator Don Dunphy was perturbed as much as impressed by the thudding sound they were making. Even ringsiders winced. Yet Ali disdainfully shook his head, trying to convince everyone that it hadn`t hurt at all…a gnat bite. But his eyes told a different story.
Ali was scoring, but Joe was scalding. Ali seemed to be tiring after round six, but rallied time and time again to punch appreciably more than goose bumps on to Joe`s rugged face. Yet the right side of Ali`s face was swelling alarmingly. Ali knew he was in a real fight. For Joe it was undeclared urban warfare.
The watershed which followed the ebb and flow came in the eleventh. Nine seconds into the round, Ali absorbed a left hook, but then slipped on a patch of water in Joe`s corner and went down on to his right knee. Mercante placed himself between the fighters, ruled no knock down, and as Ali rose, he wiped his gloves, instructing them to box.
Moments later Joe landed two gigantic left hooks, Ali wobbled and swayed, clung on for dear life to Joe and then sagged back into the ropes. The crowd roared and it looked like Ali`s time had come. With genius, cunning and guile, which are instinctive, Ali who`d bounced forward, then retreated exaggerating his gait like Buster Keaton, all of a flutter, playing possum.
Instead of pouncing on him Joe in a deliberate, affronted and maddeningly purposeful manner, strode towards him in a no nonsense Officer Dibble way. Joe`s frustrated corner termed it: “The long march.” It earned Ali precious seconds of recuperation and a glimpse at respite.
Adversity brought the best out in Ali. He smartened up his act in the next couple of rounds using Joe`s head for jab and combinations target practice, but his timing always seemed to be a fraction off.
Going into the fifteenth and final round Joe was ahead on all scorecards. Ali was going to need a KO to pull this one out of the fires of Hades. Instead, as we`ve all seen a million times, Joe launched himself at Ali, catching The Greatest flush on the already swollen jaw with a terrific left hook. Ali went down as if he`d been shot. Arthur Mercante said: “He`d been hit as hard as man could be hit!”
The sheer force of the punch was so great that Ali`s mind seemed to block out its impactful shockwave consequence. Switching to automatic pilot, he got up at three and was fighting back. Utterly impossible…but the impossible happened! Another left hook from Joe landed, but nothing as substantive followed. As the fifteenth bell tolled, Joe raised his hands aloft and Ali didn`t. Joe knew he`d won and Ali knew he hadn`t.
Judge Artie Aidala: 9-6-0.
Judge Bill Recht: 11-4-0.
Referee and Judge Arthur Mercante: 8-6-1.
Next stop was hospital for both Joe and Ali. “Smokin” Joe`s pre-existing hypertension condition was now through the roof and he was suffering from a kidney infection in the basement. Ali`s tenderized jaw was carefully examined. It was badly swollen, but not broken. That happened several years later when he fought Ken Norton for the first time.
As we see this film fifty years on, we marvel at what great fighters and truly great men Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali were and forever will be. Unlike keen rivals Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney from the Roaring Twenties, who lived into their eighties, and even danced a waltz to celebrate the Battle of the Long Count, these younger greats from the sixties and seventies, were not destined for longevity.
Joe died at just sixty seven and Ali at seventy four. They`d given their all, then even more, and finally too much.
As long as there`s Boxing, the two of them will always be mentioned in the same breath. Destiny joined and then fused them together forever… from here to eternity.
Subscribe to our new YouTube Channel starting soon with the latest boxing news and results, gossip and information from around the world. Just click the image link below:
For the list of boxing events we will cover live with and with unofficial scorecard (main event), click the following link > Live Boxing Results & Events Events <