Ali, Frazier ‘Fight of the Century’ still packs a punch 50 years on

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) – Numerous occasions stake a claim to be thought about amongst the sporting clashes of the century and couple of measure up to the buzz however any shortlist of competitors for the best of perpetuity should consist of the very first battle in between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

To be worthwhile of this acknowledgment such fights should hold up against the test of time and decline to fade from memory or significance.

They are not short lived display screens of splendor however monolithic minutes that belong to the sporting historic record kept in mind for more than a winner and loser.

For boxing that minute came at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 when unbeaten heavyweights Ali and Frazier combated in what stays, simply as it was promoted that night 50 years earlier, the “Fight of the Century”.

“It was a magical night that I will never ever forget,” remembered famous boxing promoter Bob Arum, who was ringside for the 15-round fight won by Frazier in a unanimous choice.

“We talk about this fight, and rightly so, as the biggest boxing event, if not the biggest sporting event, of all time, the question is why?” stated Arum.

“We knew Ali had never lost and not been allowed to fight for three and a half years, he was on the comeback and Joe Frazier… was the undisputed interim champion so there was a lot of boxing interest.

“However that is not what actually made it the best sporting occasion that I have actually ever experienced, it returns to politics.”

As boxing historians and commentators have noted, there have been fights that generated as much drama, even sparked more emotion, but few sporting occasions have been capable of grabbing a global spotlight for those reasons alone.

What elevates a competition above all others and puts it on a pedestal for generations to reflect on is not just suspense but underlying tension, making the outcome more important than the awarding of a trophy or championship belt.

The first fight in the Ali-Frazier trilogy was one of those events – a convergence of sport, politics and culture, with the Vietnam War as the backdrop for a spectacle that highlighted a nation’s divisions rather than bringing the country together.

“There will never ever be another heavyweight battle like that once again,” Jerry Izenberg, boxing historian and author of the best seller “When There Were Giants: The Golden Era of Heavyweight Boxing”, told Reuters. “Everyone cared who won that defend factors that had absolutely nothing to do with the battle.

“It was Vietnam that’s what it was about.

“Ali and Frazier, they were signs of the divide in the nation that unified individuals on one side or the other.”


As pure sporting spectacles go, Ali v Frazier ticked every box. Ali was billed as the The Ring/lineal heavyweight champion and Frazier entered the ring as interim WBC/WBA title holder.

Two former-Olympic champions, undefeated as professionals, in a classic match-up of contrasting styles and temperaments.

In one corner was the charismatic Ali, conscientious objector hero of the peace movement, who had been stripped of his boxing licence and titles for refusing the military draft that kept him out of the ring for more than three years.

In the other corner, Frazier, the conservative-leaning blue collar brawler with the thundering left hook.

Each boxer would be paid the then unheard of sum of $2.5 million as the fight game entered the world of pay per view.

Madison Square Garden on March 8 became a magnet for the world’s media and A-listers from movie stars to astronauts, all sensing something special was unfolding.

Arum, who has promoted some of boxing’s biggest fights doubts the sport will ever see another “Battle of the Century”.

There are some appealing fights and fighters out there like Britain’s Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, who are set to clash in a world heavyweight unification bout, but none capable of packing the punch Ali and Frazier did.

“Tyson Fury he’s a terrific character however he is no Ali,” said Arum. “If you ask me who is the next Ali or Frazier there ain’t no next.

“There will never be another heavyweight fight like that again.

“There have actually been battles considering that, other battles that have actually been perhaps more action, more interesting however no one who listened to it, saw it, or existed will ever forget it.

“That really says something.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Modifying by Ken Ferris)

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.