Breaking News

Remembering the Fight Of The Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Boxing

4 hours ago

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

Frank Sinatra knew history was about to unfold, which is why he finagled himself a photographer’s credential that allowed him to get even closer to ringside than the ringside seats.

Drug kingpin Frank Lucas knew, too, which is why he donned his most extravagant chinchilla fur coat (price tag: $100,000) to cruise down the aisle at Madison Square Garden.

Diana Ross knew. Bob Dylan knew. Burt Lancaster, members of the Kennedy family, former presidents and assorted local, state and federal political stars knew. Most of all, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier knew.

They knew history … was coming.

“It had to be now,” Frazier said prior to his death in 2011. “It was time.”

Fifty years ago, the lights of New York’s indoor sports cathedral shined upon two of the greatest heavyweights to ever live in a contest seismic and significant enough that, well, here we are half a century later — still talking about it. 

There are times in sports when history creeps up upon us, with extraordinary developments that extend long into the memory yet gave no indication they were coming.

The Fight – billed as if there were no other that mattered — was not one of those. It was a sledgehammer, a juggernaut, a frenzy of anticipation. There were converse opinions on who was going to come out on top when Ali and Frazier met for the first time, but there was resounding agreement on one thing: This was going to be an event for the ages.

A ton of articles have been written about Ali-Frazier the past couple of days, with some truly excellent ones among them. Some were nostalgic, some rip-roaring, some focused almost entirely on the fistic events within the ring and others consumed with the social ramifications that took place beyond it.

In the Washington Post, Kevin Blackistone gave a marvelous retelling of a plot by anti-war protestors to use the fight as cover to infiltrate an FBI building and expose Vietnam-related wrongdoing. The bout was so big that the plot orchestrators knew there would never be a better opportunity to remain undetected because everyone was going to be tuning in, mostly by radio. 

In The Athletic, Lance Pugmire interviewed several key figures who were in attendance and who shared this reality: There was nothing bigger, nothing better and, on that night, simply nothing else to be doing.

“When the doors finally opened, those with tickets went through hell to get inside as the crowd surged forward in an unstoppable tide,” legendary boxing historian Bert Sugar wrote for USA Today in 2016.

Jerry Izenberg, 90, the author of “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing,” is the preeminent voice on the Ali-Frazier era, and he loves to talk about their remarkable rivalry.

“So much tension,” Izenberg said. “From an emotional perspective, it stands alone.”

One of the reasons we still celebrate that night, when Frazier leveled Ali with a huge left hook in the 15th round and went on to claim a points victory, handing Ali his first career loss, is because we will never again know a time in sports like it.

The world is so intrinsically different now. Being a sports fan in the early 1970s required patience above all else. There was not much on television, and far less of it was live. Professional sports games were often shown on tape delay. There was no internet, obviously, and so there were no readily available highlights. There was no social media on which to chat about it all.

And for the most monumental clash of heavyweight titans imaginable, there was no pay-per-view. For those who didn’t have the means or connections to get inside MSG, the only option was to trek to one of a few hundred theaters dotted around the country, where tickets to view the closed circuit telecast could be acquired.

Both men have died now — Ali’s long battle with Parkinson’s ended in 2016 — yet their legacy remains, undimmed. It is enough to make you wonder if we see things the same now. Sports is like candy: delicious, but the downside of getting all you want is that even the best of it doesn’t feel so much like a treat anymore.

Ali-Frazier was a treat, albeit one that came at a fraught time in American society. The overwhelming issue of the Vietnam War split the two men and the public support. In one corner, there was Ali, the conscientious objector who had been banished from boxing for his stance, and across from him was Frazier, the son of sharecroppers who had tried to join the military and was unfairly seen as a symbol of the conservative movement.

“Everyone picked a side,” Izenberg said. “There were no neutrals.” 

Ali and Frazier would go on to make their rivalry a trilogy, meeting two more times. The second installment, in 1974, was a dour affair that Ali won by unanimous decision. The third, The Thrilla in Manilla, was a brutal war that Ali won again, with a fierce physical toll on both fighters.

When we look back at that memorable first fight, it raises the question: Is there an event that could happen today that would rival it for effect and impact? It is difficult to see how. Head-to-head sports provide the most raw and simplified emotion, and the violence of fights adds intoxicating danger. But boxing is nowhere near as relevant now as it was back then.

Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum tried to tout the upcoming Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury heavyweight clash as the biggest fight since Ali-Frazier, yet even the master hype man stopped short of likening the two, perhaps feeling that it would be a form of sporting sacrilege.

We are at a time in sports when we don’t know what shortage means, and we should be thankful for that fact. It is part of why we cherish the past, with the best bits of history those that won’t happen again — at least not in the same way.

Ali-Frazier was billed to be historic beyond compare, and it outstripped even that sales pitch. Not many sports matchups are all-consuming enough that we celebrate their birthdays, too. 

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

BoxingGet more from Boxing Add to your favorites to get information about games, news and more.share storyWin with Super 6 on Dirrell-Davis bout

Boxing

Win with Super 6 on Dirrell-Davis bout

Win with Super 6 on Dirrell-Davis bout

You can win $1,000 absolutely for free with Super 6 when Anthony Dirrell faces Kyrone Davis on Saturday night. Here’s how.

February 26

Roy Jones Jr. Visits 'Club Shay Shay'

Boxing

Roy Jones Jr. Visits ‘Club Shay Shay’

Roy Jones Jr. Visits ‘Club Shay Shay’

Coming off of his fight with Iron Mike, Roy Jones Jr. joined Shannon Sharpe to talk Tyson, Nate Robinson’s loss, and more.

December 16, 2020

Mo' Money Mayweather

Boxing

Mo’ Money Mayweather

Mo’ Money Mayweather

Floyd Mayweather Jr. will once again come out of retirement, taking on YouTube celebrity Logan Paul on pay-per-view in February.

December 6, 2020

Spence Jr. Vs. Garcia: Top Moments

Boxing

Spence Jr. Vs. Garcia: Top Moments

Spence Jr. Vs. Garcia: Top Moments

From Errol Spence Jr.’s decisive title defense to a flurry of KOs, relive all of Saturday’s spectacular action.

December 6, 2020

Boxing World Reacts To Spence Jr.'s Win

Boxing

Boxing World Reacts To Spence Jr.’s Win

Boxing World Reacts To Spence Jr.’s Win

Is Manny Pacquiao next for Errol Spence Jr.? The boxing legend was among those who shared their thoughts Saturday night.

December 6, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *