Remembering Fight of the Century, 50 years later
Joe Frazier, the heavyweight champ of the world, invested the early morning of March 8, 1971, in a New york city hotel, however it wasn’t the one he had actually explored after making the brief drive from his house in Philadelphia.
Frazier showed up in New york city on March 6 and explored the City Squire Motor Inn on 7th and 52nd in Manhattan, about 18 blocks from Madison Square Garden where on that Monday night 5 years earlier, he’d protect the heavyweight champion versus Muhammad Ali.
New york city authorities got dangers on Frazier’s life, both by means of mail and by telephone. Frazier was hustled to another area, where 4 NYPD investigators were designated to protect him. They remained in addition to the 4 officers from the Philadelphia authorities who’d taken a trip with him.
The weather condition was cold and windy, a last kick from winter season prior to the spring thaw. The high was just 36 and winds gusted at as much as 28 miles an hour, and were sustained at 15.
In spite of the unseasonably cold late winter season day, authorities anticipated more than 40,000 fans to hang around beyond Madison Square Garden throughout the battle card, so 500 officers were generated to supply security and keep order.
This was a battle, and as play-by-play commentator Don Dunphy stated at one point throughout the broadcast of the bout, “The biggest crown in the world is at stake, the heavyweight championship.”
This, however, was more than simply another boxing match. It was more, even, than another sporting occasion. Fifty years ago Monday, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier satisfied, lastly, in the ring to settle at last the identity of the world’s biggest heavyweight.
Both were currently famous expert champs after each having actually won gold medals in the Olympics, Ali in Rome in 1960 and Frazier in Tokyo in 1964. On March 8, 1971, Ali was 29 years of ages, 31-0 with 25 knockouts and the previous champ just since he was removed of his belt in 1967 for declining induction into the Vietnam War.
Frazier, a sharecropper’s kid from South Carolina, was 27 and had actually won the title that had actually been removed from Ali. He was 26-0 with 23 knockouts and struck so difficult with his left hook that some swore the walls of the structure he remained in shook when he linked.
‘Larger than the Super Bowl at the time’
Their battle remained in truth a microcosm of the state of mind of the nation at the time, a socioeconomic and political fight being played out over 15 three-minute rounds by 2 Black guys who appreciated bit more that night than tearing the other male’s avoid.
The liberals, and the growing variety of those who protested the war, preferred Ali. The conservatives, those who’d lost a liked one in the war, and those who thought one should serve his nation when hired no matter what, supported Frazier.
Tim Ryan, the long time CBS Sports broadcaster, was 31 and working for WPIX in New York City in 1971. He offered the only live English-language radio broadcast of the battle, for New Zealand Public Radio and the Army Network.
Ryan stated the battle brought in a mystical and vibrant crowd that just the greatest occasions can draw.
“Oh, this was definitely bigger than the Super Bowl at the time,” Ryan, now 81, informed Yahoo Sports. “In terms of the media attention and the excitement the fight created, this fight topped that. First, there was this expectation that it would never happen and then there was all of the controversy surrounding Ali. And at that point, it had only been a couple of years, not a long time, since he’d become Ali from Cassius Clay. A lot of people, including Joe, still referred to him as Clay at the time.
“The real driving force that created so much interest in this fight was the fact that Ali was seen by so many as a draft dodger. There was this whole racial undercurrent that surrounded the fight. Joe was this working class guy who would go in and hammer as hard as he could, but he had nowhere near the charisma that Ali had begun to display back when he was still Cassius Clay. So a lot of the interest in this fight wasn’t even about boxing. It was people who wanted to see someone beat up that damned draft dodger, or those who supported this guy who was one of the first to speak out against what would become a highly unpopular war and stood up for what he believed in and was willing to give up everything.”
The scene outside the Garden was the things of legends. There was the boxing crowd, naturally, and the smart people who had actually constantly belonged of the sweet science. However the arena was filled with motion picture stars and stars of all persuasions along with folks who simply wished to be seen.
Frank Sinatra was one of the biggest names in American pop culture, but he couldn’t get a ticket. He badly wanted to see the fight, and managed to get a media credential as a ringside photographer for Life magazine. Academy Award-winning actor Burt Lancaster was one of the three broadcasters, joining Dunphy and ex-light heavyweight champion Archie Moore on the call.
Ryan, who shared his thoughts about the fight in his engaging memoir, “On Someone Else’s Nickel,” was astonished by what he saw around the Garden on fight night.
“The scene was like something out of a movie,” Ryan said.
Gene Kilroy was part of that scene. He’d been Ali’s friend since meeting him at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Kilroy was an officer in the Army stationed in Germany, and was assigned to work the Olympics.
Ali was then known as Cassius Clay, and he and Kilroy quickly hit it off. Kilroy loved how genuine and kind-hearted and occasionally even naive Clay was.
“I was with him [in Rome] and we were walking down the street and someone came up to him begging for money,” Kilroy said. “Ali didn’t have any money. I think he had eight bucks in his pocket and he gave this guy three. And I said to him, ‘You don’t have anything to take care of yourself, why are you giving your money away?’ He said, ‘Well, he needs it. And I know God is testing me and watching what I do.’”
Kilroy, who years later was dubbed “The Facilitator,” for his ability to get simply about anything done for Ali, gradually began to help him more.
Ali was so well known at the time that the Garden and security built an apartment inside the arena so that after the weigh-in, Ali could stay there until the battle and not create a ruckus outside.
Kilroy, now 84 and the only living member of Ali’s famous entourage, said Ali loved being with people.
“All this stuff about Ali being the bad guy and people hating him, that’s all bulls***,” said Kilroy in his gruff baritone. “People loved Ali and he loved the people. He used to go to hospitals and visit kids. He knew if we put out a [press release], there would be huge crowds there, but he didn’t want that. He wanted to be with the kids, so he’d visit kids on the condition that nobody knew he was there. And I can’t tell you how many times he did that.”
Kilroy said there is little question that Ali’s 3-year exile from boxing changed him dramatically as a fighter for the worse. But Ali didn’t sulk about the loss to Frazier, even though it was a brutal fight in which both men absorbed nearly inhumane amounts of punishment.
Ali: ‘When I fight and lose, the whole world cries’
Frazier landed 59.9 percent of his punches in winning a unanimous decision in a fight scored on the round system. He won 8-6-1, 9-6 and 11-4. Ali was disappointed and was taken to a local hospital afterward to have his jaw X-rayed.
Kilroy contacted then-New York Giants’ coach Allie Sherman to find the best doctor to help Ali.
But Ali was philosophical about the defeat.
“I said to him once we all got in the back and sat down, ‘Champ, you’ll be OK. You did great,’” Kilroy said. “And he looked at me and he said, ‘Joe Frazier’s the champ. I’m not the champ any more.’ He wasn’t angry or bitter or anything. He understood every fight had a winner and a loser. He didn’t want to lose and he gave everything he had inside of him to try to win, but when he lost, he accepted it.
“I remember he said later, ‘You know, when other fighters fight and lose, little people cry. When I fight and lose, the whole world cries.’ That’s how it was, really. When he lost [to Frazier], Dr. J (Julius Erving) told me how devastated he was. So many of them were. [NFL Hall of Famer] Jimmy Brown loved him. It ate him up. But Ali accepted it.”
Ali would go on to defeat Frazier in their next two meetings, in 1974 in New York and in 1975 in Manila, Philippines. Ali called that fight the closest to death he ever felt.
He defeated George Foreman in 1974 to regain the title he’d won first by stopping Sonny Liston in 1964.
“It was 10 years from the time he won it the first time to when he won it the second time,” Kilroy said. “Think about that.”
Foreman, who followed Ali and Frazier by winning a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and then becoming heavyweight champ, later became exceptionally close with Ali.
In 2013, Foreman told Yahoo Sports he was stunned when Ali lost.
“I loved Muhammad Ali so much,” Foreman stated then. “I just looked up to him at that time and he was this guy I could never see losing. When he lost, I was like, ‘What? Muhammad Ali lost? That can’t be.’ He was that kind of a guy. I learned from him when he fought for the title [in Africa in 1974]. That fight, everybody talked about their fight and it meant everything to boxing.”
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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.