Of all the fighters Muhammad Ali has faced during his professional career, Joe Frazier has doubtlessly been his hardest rival. These two men fought three dramatic and brutal battles and they both gave everything every time.
Their first meeting in the ring took place on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. Ali had just absolved two fights after his three-and-a-half year exile. Frazier - undefeated like Ali - had been holding the title since 1970.
Back in August 1970, Ali - still banned from boxing - had arranged an interview with Joe during a car trip from Philadelphia to New York. He wanted to collect material for his autobiography since he didnít know if he would ever be allowed to fight again. Soon after this meeting they almost dueled in a Philadelphia park for promotional purpose. Frazier drew back in the last minute.
When Ali finally was granted a license, Frazier was supposed to be Aliís first opponent but the championís camp declined.
Finally, in December 1970, they were willing and a contract was signed. Ali and Frazier were guaranteed 2.5 million dollars, an incredibly high sum at that time. The boxers had preferred this offer to another that had looked worse at first sight: 1.25 million against 35 % of the gross fight income. What they did not know was that, if they had taken the other offer, each fighter would have made nine instead of two-and-a-half million dollars.
The bout got the attribute "fight of the century". For the first time in the history of the heavyweight division, two undefeated boxers faced each other in a title bout. Before the fight, Ali provoked Frazier, for example by calling him dumb and ignorant. He also mocked him because Frazier, who had once worked in a slaughterhouse, was not as eloquent as himself. The champion seemed not impressed or intimidated by these verbal attacks in opposite to Sonny Liston, for example.
Plus, during the fight, Ali couldnít discourage Frazier with his "that-didnít-hurt"-stuff. Frazier ducked under Aliís jabs, kept grinning and showed no impact on Aliís blows. He gave Ali a sample of his own medicine.
After losing the early rounds, Frazier took the control and hit Ali as hard as no one else had hit him before. But he had to take a huge amount of blows himself.
In round eleven he almost knocked Ali out. Ali staggered back into the ropes and was rescued by the bell.
In the last round Ali was knocked down by a left hook to the chin - it was one of three knockdowns in Aliís entire career. He stood up immediately and resumed the fight although probably almost every other boxer would have stayed on the canvas. Ali describes the knockdown in his book "The Greatest": "I canít remember going down. Just being on the canvas, looking up, hearing the count and knowing that I had nothing to do down there."
Frazier, whose face was noticeably ragged after the fight, won an unanimous decision and provided for Aliís first professional loss. For the first time, Ali had lost his title in the ring and had to admit that Frazier had been a foe too strong that night and that he was not yet in the shape he had been before his exile.
vs. Sonny Liston (I) - vs. Sonny Liston (II) - vs. Joe Frazier (I) - vs. George Foreman - vs. Joe Frazier (III)
© 2000 by J. Ehrmann