Ali battles Frazier in 'Fight of the Century' for heavyweight championship

Ali battles Frazier in 'Fight of the Century' for heavyweight championship

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On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier meet for the “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout marked Ali’s return to the marquee three-and-a-half years after boxing commissions revoked his license over his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. It was also Ali’s first chance to win back the heavyweight championship, which had been stripped by the WBA (World Boxing Association).

READ MORE: How the Ali-Frazier 'Fight of the Century' Became a Proxy Battle for a Divided Nation

Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated and had won Olympic gold medals and multiple Golden Gloves championships, but their personalities were vastly different. Ali was a showboat, and his mastery of the media, his improvisational poetry during interviews and his debonair good looks separated him from every other fighter, and every other athlete, of his generation. Much to his opponent’s dismay, Ali successfully painted the less popular and more reserved Frazier as an “Uncle Tom” and an instrument of the establishment. Leading up to the fight, the national press fawned over Ali, heralding “the hero’s return.” Ali played right along, while doing his best to knock Frazier off his game through mental intimidation. He even went so far as to repeatedly call Frazier a “gorilla.”

On the night of the fight, celebrities filled Madison Square Garden. Miles Davis was resplendent in a red suit. Frank Sinatra sat ringside, photographing the fight for a Life magazine article. It was said that billions of people were following the fight in person, on TV or on the radio, and most of them were cheering for Ali.

The fight lived up to the hype. Ali initially landed more punches, gliding about the ring as light on his feet as he was in the prime of his career. Frazier’s punches, however, seemed to have more impact. By the eighth round, Frazier was leading six rounds to two with each judge. In the 11th round, Ali staggered but fought back, forcing the action into the 12th and 13th rounds. The fight was already decided by the 15th, when Frazier landed a left hook to Ali’s right chin, knocking down the champ for just the third time in his illustrious career. Ali got up, but Frazier won the fight by unanimous decision, retaining his title and delivering Ali the first loss of his career.

The two fighters would fight twice more, in 1974 and 1975, with Ali winning both fights. The rivalry was so intense that, 20 years after their final fight, when Ali carried the torch and lit the ceremonial flame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Frazier said, “If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in.”

Who won The Fight Of The Century? Backstory, championships, result and legacy of Muhammad Ali’s first fight vs. Joe Frazier

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One of the all-time great boxing matches took place on this date, half a century ago.

Few fights in the history of professional boxing have left a legacy as big as the first of three encounters between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and on March 8, 2021, the iconic showdown between two then-undefeated greats turned 50 years old.

The 1971 encounter was dubbed 'The Fight Of The Century' and, while boxing fans are accustomed to fight cards being tacked with unrealistically-ambitious slogans on a regular basis, this moniker proved appropriate soon after the contest was over and even more so five decades later.

It was the very first time two undefeated boxers faced off for the heavyweight championship of the world, with Ali striving to reclaim the title that was taken away from him when he refused to be inducted into the US Armed Forces for the Vietnam War. During that near four-year absence, Frazier rose to the top of the division and claimed the heavyweight titles months before Ali's return.

The table was set for one of the most eagerly-anticipated boxing showdowns of all time, and one that only a select few contests have come close to matching in terms of global profile since.

Here's the lowdown on Ali vs. Frazier I.

50 years ago today, Ali and Frazier stepped into the ring and delivered a divided nation its greatest sporting spectacle

Professional boxing had come a long way in the half-century that preceded March 8, 1971, the night Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali stepped into the Madison Square Garden ring for what remains history’s greatest heavyweight championship fight.

Fifty years earlier, in a previously-billed “Fight of the Century,’’ Jack Dempsey had met Georges Carpentier in a makeshift wooden arena constructed to hold 120,000 fans at a place called Boyle’s Thirty Acres across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The only way to see the fight was to be there, and if you were anywhere in the outer reaches of the vast amphitheater, you needed binoculars or a telescope to see the minuscule figures in the distant ring.

Ali-Frazier I would be seen live by a comparatively-puny crowd of 20,000 but witnessed by an additional 300 million more around the world via what was then the revolutionary concept of closed-circuit television. It was the dawn of an era that would eventually lead to the privilege of bringing an abomination like the 2017 “fight’’ between Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor “fight’’ or last November’s sparring match between a couple of 50-year-olds, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., into the comfort of your living room at prices ranging up to $100 a pop.

But in other ways, little has changed in the five decades that have passed since Ali-Frazier I, or even the century that has elapsed since the Dempsey-Carpentier fight.

In 1971, Ali polarized the nation by refusing to take the ceremonial step forward to be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, a decision that cost him his title and four years of his athletic prime and countless millions of dollars. Dempsey was in the same situation in 1921, an immensely unpopular champion for having failed to serve in World War I due to his status as a married man he had wed Maxine Cates, a prostitute 15 years his senior, five years earlier.

But there was of course another element to the hatred directed at Ali 50 years ago. He was the Black man that terrified white America, the one who was tough enough to kick your ass and handsome enough to steal your wife. And he wasn’t shy about reminding you of either.

Fast forward to 2016, where a Black man of a different sport and a far different personality — after all, has there ever been another athlete even remotely like Ali? — has enraged and polarized white America by simply taking a knee on a football field.

In truth, aside from their effect on the populace, there is little in common between Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick. While Kaepernick’s stance has been admirable and costly, it does not begin to compare to what Ali willingly gave up in 1967. And it is hard to imagine that if Kaepernick were allowed to return to the NFL it would be met with the same kind of shockwaves that Ali’s return to the ring caused in 1970.

There are no athletes like Ali anymore, and likely never will be. There is simply no percentage in alienating half the country, antagonizing sponsors and, in the vernacular of our times, tarnishing a brand the way Ali was willing to in allegiance to his personal convictions and religious beliefs.

Even Kaepernick, as righteous as his cause is and as onerous as his punishment, eventually received a financial safety net in the form of a Nike deal that cushioned his fall onto a bed of millions per year. Ali had roach powder , shoe polish and shaving cream. (As far as I can recall, Frazier never had an endorsement deal of any kind. well there was Miller Lite .)

When Ali climbed into the ring that night, he was facing more than just the destructive whirlwind that was Smokin’ Joe Frazier. While probably half the Garden crowd viewed Ali as a martyred hero, the other half wanted to see him carried out on a stretcher. It was hardly an unusual situation for Ali the loudmouthed persona he had created for himself after returning from the 1960 Rome Olympics with a gold medal was specifically designed to attract crowds that would pay good money for the chance you might see him beaten to a pulp.

So it was that on March 8, 1971, the factions rooting for each fighter were divided along tribal lines. Ali was the choice of the counterculture, the hell-no-we-won’t-go crowd, the “liberals,’’ the hippies, and just about all of Black America. Frazier, who had lived the life of a sharecropper as a boy in Beaufort, S.C. — he actually spoke Gullah, the creole dialect adopted by Black southern farmworkers to preserve some remnants of their African. culture, and also to be able to speak without being understood by slavemasters — before moving as a teenager to inner-city Philadelphia, was unfairly and unwillingly thrust into the role of Great White Hope.

It was a role that would scar him for the rest of his life and destroy whatever post-career relationship he and Ali might have had. In that racially-charged era there could be no worse epithet slung at a Black man than to be called an Uncle Tom. Under the guise of “fight hype,’’ Ali hung that around Frazier’s neck. It cut like a knife in 1971, and the last time I interviewed Frazier, at his apartment in Philadelphia about a year before his death in 2011, the wound was still raw.

“Sometimes, when things ain’t going right for me, I watch that fight and I feel better,’’ he told me.

Frazier, then 66 years old, wasn’t feeling very well at the time, having just undergone back surgery for the sixth time to treat a split spine suffered in an auto accident eight years before.

On the wall behind where he sat hung a huge picture of the perhaps the most famous left hook in boxing history, delivered in the opening seconds of the 15th round and captured at the moment of impact on Ali’s jaw. Ali is glassy-eyed and his legs are in that curious half-standing, half-sitting posture that always means the next stop is the floor.

“There’s the Butterfly, on his way down,’’ Frazier had said. “There was my moment. Where would I be without that?’’

And yet, Frazier had never truly been able to savor his triumph. Practically from the moment the decision was announced, Ali screamed that he had been robbed. He renounced his promise to “crawl across the ring’’ and kiss Frazier’s feet if he lost. And while Ali spent a few hours in a New York emergency room having X-rays taken of a grotesquely swollen jaw, it was Frazier who wound up in a hospital for nearly a month, suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and a kidney ailment that left him close to death.

Later, it would also be revealed that throughout his career, Joe Frazier had been an insulin-dependent diabetic, which sharply curtailed his ability to train, and had fought many of his fights blind in his left eye, which may explain why he was always so vulnerable to Ali’s wicked right hand.

And while there is no doubt neither man was ever the same after that first meeting, Ali was able to regain the title two more times, once in dramatic fashion with his KO of George Foreman in Zaire and once in nostalgic fashion, by outboxing a young and green Leon Spinks, a fighter he’d lost his belt to exactly seven months earlier.

Frazier, meanwhile, fought just nine more times over the next 10 years, and lost four of them. The fact that the only men ever to have beaten him were named Ali and Foreman is further testament to his greatness.

And the truth is that probably no heavyweight in history would have beaten Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971. The fire he was willing to march through for 14-plus rounds before landing the punch that put the exclamation point on his victory had never been matched in any previous heavyweight title fight, nor has it been in the ensuing 50 years. I doubt it ever will.

Viewed strictly by pugilistic standards, Ali-Frazier I was the gold standard of heavyweight title fights. I don’t need CompuBox to tell me there were an enormous amount of punches thrown and landed over the course of those 15 rounds, and I don’t need to have felt the sting of Ali’s jab or the thud of Frazier’s hook to understand what the effect was. The faces of the two fighters at the final bell said it all.


Regarded as one of the finest sporting rivalries in history, what the late, legendary duo of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier left in the ring over three legs will remain eternally glorious. From ‘The Fight of the Century’ to ‘The Thrilla in Manila’, we take a look back in time at the iconic, often gruelling, Ali-Frazier trilogy.

FRAZIER-ALI I – “The Fight of the Century…”

With the eyes of the sporting world firmly locked on what would later unfold into a heavyweight classic between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, the rivalry that stemmed between the then-unbeaten pair during the build-up was about so much more than boxing.

Ali – preparing for his third fight back after a politically driven spell of inactivity – had evolved into an anti-establishment icon after denouncing the Vietnam war. During the build-up, he angered Frazier immensely by labelling him an “Uncle Tom” and painting him to be a symbol of white hope – stoking the flames of what would later become a barn-burner for the ages.

With more than 300 million people around the globe tuning in for their WBA/WBC showdown, the fired up heavyweight pair exceeded already sky-high expectations. Ali got the better of the opening three rounds – marking up the champion’s face with his stiff jab. Frazier, however, started to land heavy blows to the body of Ali, whilst also finding a home on several occasions with his now-iconic left hook in the mid rounds.

With the fight close heading into the home stretch, Frazier pinned Ali with a left hook in the eleventh that left ‘The Greatest’ shook. Ali recovered reasonably well in the three rounds that followed, though a dramatic 15th and final session awaited.

Reigning champion Frazier dipped down before nailing his adversary once more over the top with a left hand of nuclear proportions – sending Ali crashing to the canvas. The Louisville man showcased his sheer will and iron chin by beating the ten-count, though Frazier had sealed a career-defining victory. Following the final bell, the scorecards read 11-4, 9-6 and 8-6 – all in Smokin’ Joe’s favour.

ALI-FRAZIER II – “Revenge…”

Just shy of three years on from their epic first encounter, Ali and Frazier met once more at Madison Square Garden over twelve rounds. The title-hunting pair were both not only fighting to settle a bitter feud, but to also secure a shot at World heavyweight champion George Foreman with a victory. Foreman had previously swatted Frazier just a year earlier.

Though the 2nd instalment of the Ali-Frazier series is perhaps the least memorable of the three, the build-up was no less intense. Whilst reviewing their first fight at the ABC Studios, Ali infuriated Frazier by branding him “ignorant”. The pair grappled on the studio floor before being separated, and a $5,000 fine was issued to both by the NYSAC for their conduct.

Four rounds into the rematch, it was clear that Ali had learned a great deal from his maiden defeat to Smokin’ Joe in 1971. Rather than standing toe-to-toe, sitting on the ropes or showboating, ‘The Greatest’ circled away from the left hand that had previously caused him so much trouble, and tied his rival up whenever danger loomed.

Frazier finally found a frequent home for his left hook in the seventh round, though Ali responded well in the ninth with several peppering right hands and an uppercut that left Smokin’ Joe on unsteady legs. Ali shuffled his way to victory in the final round, having neutralised the danger of Frazier for large spells with both his movement and clinching.

Both Frazier and legendary trainer Eddie Futch were furious about Ali’s holding during the fight, though the night would belong to ‘The Greatest’ – with the scorecards showing 8-4, 7-4 and 6-5 in his favour. This cleared the way for Ali to face Foreman in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’.

ALI-FRAZIER III – “The Thrilla in Manila…”

Considered by many to be the best heavyweight fight of all time, the third and final chapter of the Ali-Frazier rivalry was pure, taxing, gruelling violence. Both men showcased their sheer will and greatness to the world during some of the hardest-fought championship rounds ever witnessed.

Ali – who had a great deal of success by utilising lateral movement and circling away from Frazier’s left hook in the 2nd fight – signalled his intentions early doors by meeting Frazier in the centre of the ring and unloading bombs. Smokin’ Joe, however, was not deterred – walking through shots to land some brutal bodywork of his own.

Frazier’s body punching appeared to have paid dividends, as the former heavyweight ruler began to slow down Ali by the sixth round. The middle sessions belonged to Frazier, as he continued to come forward like a man possessed. Ali threw back in bunches to try and deter his heavyweight rival at times, though Frazier appeared to be unfazed by what was coming his way.

Frazier, however, began to unravel down the home stretch, with Ali finding a second wind to seize control once more. ‘The Greatest’ landed en mass on Frazier in the 11th – with Smokin’ Joe’s eyes starting to swell to the point where he was struggling to see what was coming towards him.

Ali assaulted the now near-blind Frazier – smashing him with left hooks and right hands in the 12th, 13th and 14th rounds. With one round to go, Eddie Futch had seen enough and decided to pull Frazier out. “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today,” Futch told him, before sparing Smokin’ Joe from further punishment.

Ali, completely exhausted in the opposite corner, rose from his stool to celebrate victory before dropping down with sheer fatigue and elation. The night belonged to ‘The Greatest’, though neither man would truly be the same after what they had given to the sporting world in the Metro Manila that evening.

Joe Frazier Beats Muhammad Ali in ‘Fight of Century’

In a classic 15-round battle, Joe Frazier broke the wings of the butterfly and smashed the stinger of the bee last night in winning a unanimous 15-round decision over Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden.

Defying an anonymous “lose or else” death threat, Frazier settled the controversy over the world heavyweight championship by handing Ali his first defeat with a savage attack that culminated in a thudding knockdown of the deposed titleholder from a hammerlike left hook in the final round.

During the classic brawl, one man in the sellout throng of 20,455 died of a heart attack.

When the verdict was announced, Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, accepted it stoically.

Hurried to his dressing room rather than the postfight interview area, Ali remained there for about half an hour. Suddenly, he departed for Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital for X-rays of the severely swollen jaw. He was released from the hospital after 40 minutes and left unbandaged.

But even before Ali’s jaw began to bloat, the unbeaten Frazier had dulled the vaunted weapons of his revival in recording his 27th victory, although he failed in his quest for his 24th knockout. Ali’s defeat ended his winning streak after 31 triumphs, with 25 knockouts.


“I always knew who the champion was,” Frazier, his brow swollen above each eye, said with a smile.

The officials agreed with the Philadelphia slugger. Judge Bill Recht awarded him 11 rounds to four for Ali, while the other judge, Artie Aidala, had Frazier ahead by 9-6. Referee Arthur Mercante had it the closest, 8-6 for Frazier with one round even. During his uncharacteristic postfight silence, Ali sent this word to newsmen through Drew (Bundini) Brown, his assistant trainer: “Don’t worry, we’ll be back, we ain’t through yet.” But regarding a possible return bout, Frazier said, “I don’t think Clay will want one.”

Ali had predicted Frazier would fall “in six rounds” and he had maintained that there was “no way” the recognized champion could outpoint him. But the swarming Philadelphia brawler, battering his Cherry Hill, N.J., neighbor, ended the 29-year-old Ali’s credibility as a prophet.

At the age of 27, Frazier justified his reign for all the world to see on a television network with an audience estimated at 300 million. Each fighter will receive $2.5 million from a possible $25 million in total worldwide receipts. The $1,352,951 gate at the Garden was a record for an indoor bout.

Ali remained unscratched, except for a slightly bloodied nose, but his jaw began to swell on both sides in the late rounds from Frazier’s persistent hammering.

In the final round, Frazier landed a wild left hook that sent Ali sprawling onto his back in a corner. But the 6-to-5 betting underdog was up almost instantly and took the mandatory eight-count on unsteady feet. Moments later, Frazier jolted his 215-pound rival with another left hook.

With a minute remaining, Ali desperately tried for a knockout, but his punches had virtually no effect. With the crowd roaring in the final seconds, the bell rang and Frazier playfully cuffed Ali across his head, bowed in apparent defeat.

Ali’s strategy obviously had been to let Frazier grow arm-weary while pummeling him. But the chunky champion, despite a 6 ½-inch disadvantage in reach, defied Ali’s tiring jab and moved in under to convince the Garden audience he deserved the decision.

When the decision was announced, a patter of boos erupted, but the cheers soon thundered above them.

Except for the first round, when the red tassels on Ali’s high white shoes flopped in rhythm to his ballerina moves, the deposed titleholder primarily used a flat-footed stance, a radical departure from his floating, stinging style prior to his 3 ½ -year exile that ended last year.

While his exile matured Ali’s physique, it sabotaged his speed. But in red velvet trunks, he was as arrogant as ever even before the midring instructions. Twice he shouldered Frazier, in green-and-gold brocade trunks, as he whirled around the ring. And twice Frazier glared in contempt.

During the early rounds, Frazier pounded his left hook into Ali’s midsection, but several times the deposed champion shook his head in the clinch as if to reassure his idolators.

At the end of the second round, Ali waved his right glove in derision at Frazier as they walked to their corners. And during that intermission, he showed his disdain by refusing to rest on his stool and moving threateningly to the center of the ring before the bell rang for the third.

Moments later, Ali’s voice could be heard through the microphone hanging over the ring. Mercante warned Ali that “no talking” would be tolerated.

Soon, Ali wasn’t talking anymore. Near the end of the fourth, Frazier’s left hook bloodied Ali’s nose. And in the fifth, Frazier strayed from his taciturn character.

Frazier was literally laughing in Ali’s face now and he was in command. When the bell ended the fifth round, Frazier cuffed Ali across the top of the head.

In the tremendous tempo, Frazier was fulfilling his strategy to “kill the body and the head will die.” But somehow, Ali’s head remained alive through the middle rounds as his sixth-round prediction was unfulfilled. But before the eighth round, a chant of “Ali, Ali, Ali” began.

Momentarily inspired, Ali waved to the crowd and pointed to them as if to show Frazier it was his audience. But after the round, a roar of “Joe, Joe, Joe” disputed Ali’s confidence.

More willing to trade punches, Ali slowed Frazier’s pace. The champion’s legs were weaving instead of churning. Sensing a knockout opportunity, Ali pounced but Frazier, in his typical fury, fought him off. In the 10th, Ali glanced at the ringside and shouted, “He’s out,” in a reference to Frazier’s weariness.

In the 11th, Ali slipped to the canvas momentarily. Near the end of the round, he was made wobbly by a left hook. Frazier’s savage flurry sent him stumbling into the ropes. He flopped around the ring on rubber legs, but appeared to be playing possum, perhaps to frustrate Frazier further.

But in the 12th, Frazier, strengthened by the surging of joy he receives from punishing an opponent, resumed his frantic pace — but soon it slowed. Each boxer was moving securely, but slowly, until Frazier uncoiled the left hook that dropped Ali in the final round.

It was only the third time Ali had been knocked down in his decade of competition. Sonny Banks floored him in 1962 during his 11th bout and Henry Cooper flattened him in 1963 during his 19th bout.

But the knockdown by Frazier was the final embarrassment for the deposed champion, the sixth ex-heavyweight champion to fail in an attempt to regain his title. The others were Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Jim Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett. Only Floyd Patterson has succeeded in regaining it.

In his failure, Ali not only lost, but more embarrassing, he was silenced.

Ali battles Frazier in 'Fight of the Century' for heavyweight championship - HISTORY

Sorry, this was the real Fight of the Century:

Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

most professional fighters are not brain trusts. beating up people for money does not take much education.

sinko swimo: dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

most professional fighters are not brain trusts. beating up people for money does not take much education.

It doesnt take any education at all to be a decent human being.

Ali vs. Frazier was pretty incredible.

But I'm fascinated by the fact that this is the second match called "The Fight of The Century." The first one being Joe Louis, a black American, versus Max Schmeling, a Jewish German, fought in Germany in 1936. And that match, which has a ton of story potential, has not received much attention in popular media.

Okay I've got a story to go along with this. In college, I had a roommate named Dave. In a previous life he had been a bill-collector. One night he was sent out to repossess a TV set. He showed up at the address. It was the evening of the Ali Frazier Fight. Dave's a small White guy. He announced to the eight large burly Black guys watching the TV, that he was there to take it. They looked at him. They looked at each other. They looked back at Dave. They laughed.

Amusingly, they were good-natured about it, and after making it clear that Dave would not be taking the TV, invited him to stay and watch the fight. He didn't.

dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

Ali would say and do anything to hype a fight. He could sell out matches like no other. He also did his best to get fights with lesser known boxers who needed paydays. And give money to downtrodden people he saw in all corners of the globe. And generally just cared about people.

dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

Sounds like modern identity politics to me. He was ahead of his time.

Nosatril: dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

Ali would say and do anything to hype a fight. He could sell out matches like no other. He also did his best to get fights with lesser known boxers who needed paydays. And give money to downtrodden people he saw in all corners of the globe. And generally just cared about people.

dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

yea, well neither is Kelsey Grammer, who is one 'ambien' away from losing his new show.

DerAppie: dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

Sounds like modern identity politics to me. He was ahead of his time.

Ah yes, there's that ol' fashion Fark racism

dothemath: Look up some of the horrible things Ali said about Frazier. How he was not an "authentic black man" etc.

Ali was not a great human being.

He was hyping a fight. Ali is a farkin legend, you ain't shiat.

Creepy Lurker Guy: Okay I've got a story to go along with this. In college, I had a roommate named Dave. In a previous life he had been a bill-collector. One night he was sent out to repossess a TV set. He showed up at the address. It was the evening of the Ali Frazier Fight. Dave's a small White guy. He announced to the eight large burly Black guys watching the TV, that he was there to take it. They looked at him. They looked at each other. They looked back at Dave. They laughed.

Amusingly, they were good-natured about it, and after making it clear that Dave would not be taking the TV, invited him to stay and watch the fight. He didn't.

This is possible if it were Ali/Frazier II or III. But their first fight was only available on closed circuit television. If you weren't actually in Madison Square Garden for 1, you would've only seen the fight at an extremely large venue. Many movie theaters and sporting/concert venues sold tickets. The Spectrum in Philadelphia was sold out to watch the fight on CC TV.


Clay made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. From then until the end of 1963, Clay amassed a record of 19–0 with 15 wins by knockout. He defeated boxers including Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, LaMar Clark, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper. Clay also beat his former trainer and veteran boxer Archie Moore in a 1962 match. [9] [10]

These early fights were not without trials. Clay was knocked down by both Sonny Banks and Cooper. In the Cooper fight, Clay was floored by a left hook at the end of round four, and was groggy went he got up at the count of three. However, the round had ended by the time he rose, and he recovered between rounds, going on to win in the predicted 5th round due to Cooper's severely cut eye. The fight with Doug Jones on March 13, 1963 was Clay's toughest fight during this stretch. The number two and three heavyweight contenders respectively, Clay and Jones fought on Jones' home turf at New York's Madison Square Garden. Jones staggered Clay in the first round, and the unanimous decision for Clay was greeted by boos and a rain of debris thrown into the ring. Watching on closed-circuit TV, heavyweight champ Sonny Liston quipped that if he fought Clay he might get locked up for murder. The fight was later named "Fight of the Year" by The Ring magazine. [11]

In each of these fights, Clay vocally belittled his opponents and vaunted his abilities. He called Jones "an ugly little man" and Cooper a "bum." He said he was embarrassed to get in the ring with Alex Miteff and claimed that Madison Square Garden was "too small for me." [12] His provocative and outlandish behavior in the ring was inspired by professional wrestler "Gorgeous George" Wagner. [13] Ali stated in a 1969 interview with the Associated Press' Hubert Mizel that he met with Gorgeous George in Las Vegas in 1961 and that the wrestler inspired him to use wrestling jargon when he did interviews. [14]

In 1960 Clay left Moore's camp, partially due to Clay's refusal to do chores such as washing dishes and sweeping. To replace Moore, Clay hired Angelo Dundee to be his trainer. Clay had met Dundee in February 1957 during Clay's amateur career. [15] Around this time, Clay sought longtime idol Sugar Ray Robinson to be his manager, but was rebuffed. [16]

Fights against Liston Edit

By late 1963, Clay had become the top contender for Sonny Liston's title. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach. Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a criminal past and ties to the mob. Based on Clay's uninspired performance against Jones and Cooper in his previous two fights, and Liston's destruction of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in two first-round knock outs, Clay was a 7–1 underdog. Despite this, Clay taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, dubbing him "the big ugly bear", stating "Liston even smells like a bear" and claiming "After I beat him I'm going to donate him to the zoo." [17] Clay turned the pre-fight weigh-in into a circus, shouting at Liston that "someone is going to die at ringside tonight." Clay's pulse rate was measured at 120, more than double his normal 54. [18] Many of those in attendance thought Clay's behavior stemmed from fear, and some commentators wondered if he would show up for the bout.

The outcome of the fight was a major upset. At the opening bell, Liston rushed at Clay, seemingly angry and looking for a quick knockout. However, Clay's superior speed and mobility enabled him to elude Liston, making the champion miss and look awkward. At the end of the first round, Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston repeatedly with jabs. Liston fought better in round two, but at the beginning of the third round Clay hit Liston with a combination that buckled his knees and opened a cut under his left eye. This was the first time Liston had ever been cut. At the end of round four, Clay was returning to his corner when he began experiencing blinding pain in his eyes and asked his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to cut off his gloves. Dundee refused. It has been speculated that the problem was due to ointment used to seal Liston's cuts, perhaps deliberately applied by his corner to his gloves. [18] Though unconfirmed, boxing historian Bert Sugar claimed that two of Liston's opponents also complained about their eyes "burning." [19] [20]

Despite Liston's attempts to knock out a blinded Clay, Clay was able to survive the fifth round until sweat and tears rinsed the irritation from his eyes. In the sixth, Clay dominated, hitting Liston repeatedly. Liston did not answer the bell for the seventh round, and Clay was declared the winner by TKO. Liston stated that the reason he quit was an injured shoulder. Following the win, a triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and, pointing to the ringside press, shouted: "Eat your words!" He added, "I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I'm the prettiest thing that ever lived." [21]

At ringside post fight, Clay appeared unconvinced that the fight was stopped due to a Liston shoulder injury, saying that the only injury Liston had was "an open eye, a big cut eye!" When told by Joe Louis that the injury was a "left arm thrown out of its socket," Clay quipped, "Yeah, swinging at nothing, who wouldn't!" [22]

In winning this fight at the age of 22, Clay became the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion. However, Floyd Patterson remained the youngest to win the heavyweight championship, doing so at the age 21 during an elimination bout following Rocky Marciano's retirement. Mike Tyson broke both records in 1986 when he defeated Trevor Berbick to win the heavyweight title at age 20.

Soon after the Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Cassius X, and then later to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating with the Nation of Islam. Ali then faced a rematch with Liston scheduled for May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine. It had been scheduled for Boston the previous November, but was postponed for six months due to Ali's emergency surgery for a hernia three days before. [23] The fight was controversial. Midway through the first round, Liston was knocked down by a difficult-to-see blow the press dubbed a "phantom punch." Referee Jersey Joe Walcott did not begin the count immediately after the knockdown, as Ali refused to retreat to a neutral corner. Liston rose after he had been down for about 20 seconds, and the fight momentarily continued. However a few seconds later Walcott, having been informed by the timekeepers that Liston had been down for a count of 10, stopped the match and declared Ali the winner by knockout. [24] The entire fight lasted less than two minutes. [25]

It has since been speculated that Liston purposely dropped to the ground. Proposed motivations include threats on his life from the Nation of Islam, that he had bet against himself and that he "took a dive" to pay off debts. Slow-motion replays show that Liston was jarred by a chopping right from Ali, although it is unclear whether the blow was a genuine knockout punch. [26]

Fight against Patterson Edit

Ali defended his title against former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson on November 22, 1965. Before the match, Ali mocked Patterson, who was widely known to call him by his former name Cassius Clay, as an "Uncle Tom", calling him "The Rabbit". Although Ali clearly had the better of Patterson, who appeared injured during the fight, the match lasted 12 rounds before being called on a technical knockout. Patterson later said he had strained his sacroiliac. Ali was criticized in the sports media for appearing to have toyed with Patterson during the fight. [27] Patterson biographer W.K. Stratton claims that the conflict between Ali and Patterson was not genuine but was staged to increase ticket sales and the closed-circuit viewing audience, with both men complicit in the theatrics. Stratton also cites an interview by Howard Cosell in which Ali explained that rather than toying with Patterson, he refrained from knocking him out after it became apparent Patterson was injured. Patterson himself later said that he'd never been hit by punches as soft as Ali's. Stratton states that Ali arranged the second fight, in 1972, with the financially struggling Patterson to help the former champion earn enough money to pay a debt to the IRS. [28]

Main Bout Edit

After the Patterson fight, Ali founded his own promotion company, Main Bout. The company handled Ali's boxing promotions and pay-per-view closed-circuit television broadcasts its stockholders were mainly fellow Nation of Islam members, such as Jabir Herbert Muhammad and the chief aide to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, John Ali, [29] along with several others, including Bob Arum, who later founded Top Rank. [30]

Ali and then-WBA heavyweight champion boxer Ernie Terrell had agreed to meet for a bout in Chicago on March 29, 1966 (the WBA, one of two boxing associations, had stripped Ali of his title following his joining the Nation of Islam). But in February Ali was reclassified by the Louisville draft board as 1-A from 1-Y, and he indicated that he would refuse to serve, commenting to the press, "I ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong no Viet Cong never called me nigger." [31] Amidst the media and public outcry over Ali's stance, the Illinois Athletic Commission refused to sanction the fight, citing technicalities. [32]

Instead, Ali traveled to Canada and Europe and won championship bouts against George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London and Karl Mildenberger.

Ali returned to the United States to fight Cleveland Williams in the Houston Astrodome on November 14, 1966. The bout drew a record-breaking indoor crowd of 35,460 people. Williams had once been considered among the hardest punchers in the heavyweight division, but in 1964 he had been shot at point-blank range by a Texas policeman, resulting in the loss of one kidney and 10 feet (3.0 m) of his small intestine. Ali dominated Williams, winning a third-round technical knockout in what some consider the finest performance of his career.

Ali fought Terrell in Houston on February 6, 1967. Terrell, who was unbeaten in five years and had defeated many of the boxers Ali had faced, was billed as Ali's toughest opponent since Liston he was big, strong and had a three-inch reach advantage over Ali. During the lead up to the bout, Terrell repeatedly called Ali "Clay", much to Ali's annoyance. The two almost came to blows over the name issue in a pre-fight interview with Howard Cosell. Ali seemed intent on humiliating Terrell. "I want to torture him", he said. "A clean knockout is too good for him." [33] The fight was close until the seventh round, when Ali bloodied Terrell and almost knocked him out. In the eighth round, Ali taunted Terrell, hitting him with jabs and shouting between punches, "What's my name, Uncle Tom . what's my name?" Ali won a unanimous 15-round decision. Terrell claimed that early in the fight Ali deliberately thumbed him in the eye, forcing him to fight half-blind, and then, in a clinch, rubbed the wounded eye against the ropes. Because of Ali's apparent intent to prolong the fight to inflict maximum punishment, critics described the bout as "one of the ugliest boxing fights." Tex Maule later wrote: "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty." Ali denied the accusations of cruelty but, for Ali's critics, the fight provided more evidence of his arrogance.

After Ali's title defense against Zora Folley on March 22, he was stripped of his title due to his refusal to be drafted to army service. [34] His boxing license was also suspended by the state of New York. He was convicted of draft evasion on June 20 and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He paid a bond and remained free while the verdict was being appealed.

In March 1966, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces. He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971. During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali's stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African-American pride and racial justice.

The Super Fight Edit

While banned from sanctioned bouts, Ali settled a $1 million lawsuit against radio producer Murray Woroner by accepting $10,000 to appear in a privately staged fantasy fight against retired champion Rocky Marciano. [35] In 1969 the boxers were filmed sparring for about 75 one-minute rounds they acted out several different endings. [36] A computer program purportedly determined the winner, based on data about the fighters. Edited versions of the bout were shown in movie theaters in 1970. In the U.S. version Ali lost in a simulated 13th-round knockout, but in the European version Marciano lost due to cuts, also simulated. [37]

Ali suggested that prejudice determined his defeat in the U.S. version. He was reported to jokingly say, "That computer was made in Alabama." [35]

On August 11, 1970, with his case still in appeal, Ali was granted a license to box by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission, thanks to State Senator Leroy R. Johnson. [38] Ali's first return bout was against Jerry Quarry on October 26, resulting in a win after three rounds after Quarry was cut.

A month earlier, a victory in federal court forced the New York State Boxing Commission to reinstate Ali's license. [39] He fought Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December, an uninspired performance that ended in a dramatic technical knockout of Bonavena in the 15th round. The win left Ali as a top contender against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.

First fight against Joe Frazier Edit

Ali and Frazier's first fight, held at the Garden on March 8, 1971, was nicknamed the "Fight of the Century", due to the tremendous excitement surrounding a bout between two undefeated fighters, each with a legitimate claim as heavyweight champions. Veteran boxing writer John Condon called it "the greatest event I've ever worked on in my life." The bout was broadcast to 35 foreign countries promoters granted 760 press passes. [40]

Adding to the atmosphere were the considerable pre-fight theatrics and name calling. Ali portrayed Frazier as a "dumb tool of the white establishment." "Frazier is too ugly to be champ", Ali said. "Frazier is too dumb to be champ." Ali also frequently called Frazier an "Uncle Tom". Dave Wolf, who worked in Frazier's camp, recalled that, "Ali was saying 'the only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I'm fighting for the little man in the ghetto.' Joe was sitting there, smashing his fist into the palm of his hand, saying, 'What the fuck does he know about the ghetto? ' " [40]

Ali began training at a farm near Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and, finding the country setting to his liking, sought to develop a real training camp in the countryside. He found a five-acre site on a Pennsylvania country road in the village of Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. On this site, Ali carved out what was to become his training camp, where he trained for all his fights from 1972 to the end of his career in 1981.

The Monday night fight lived up to its billing. In a preview of their two other fights, a crouching, bobbing and weaving Frazier constantly pressured Ali, getting hit regularly by Ali jabs and combinations, but relentlessly attacking and scoring repeatedly, especially to Ali's body. The fight was even in the early rounds, but Ali was taking more punishment than ever in his career. On several occasions in the early rounds he played to the crowd and shook his head "no" after he was hit. In the later rounds—in what was the first appearance of the "rope-a-dope strategy"—Ali leaned against the ropes and absorbed punishment from Frazier, hoping to tire him. In the 11th round, Frazier connected with a left hook that wobbled Ali, but because it appeared that Ali might be clowning as he staggered backwards across the ring, Frazier hesitated to press his advantage, fearing an Ali counter-attack. In the final round, Frazier knocked Ali down with a vicious left hook, which referee Arthur Mercante said was as hard as a man can be hit. Ali was back on his feet in three seconds. [40] Nevertheless, Ali lost by unanimous decision, his first professional defeat.

Chamberlain challenge and Ellis fight Edit

In 1971, basketball star Wilt Chamberlain challenged Ali to a fight, and a bout was scheduled for July 26. Although the seven-foot-two-inch tall Chamberlain had formidable physical advantages over Ali— weighing 60 pounds more and able to reach 14 inches further —Ali was able to influence Chamberlain into calling off the bout by taunting him with calls of "Timber!" and "The tree will fall" during a shared interview. These statements of confidence unsettled his taller opponent, whom Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had offered a record-setting contract, conditional on Chamberlain agreeing to abandon what Cooke termed "this boxing foolishness," [41] and he did exactly that. [42] To replace Ali's opponent, promoter Bob Arum quickly booked a former sparring partner of Ali's, Jimmy Ellis, who was a childhood friend from Louisville, Kentucky, to fight him.

Fights against Quarry, Patterson, Foster and Norton Edit

After the loss to Frazier, Ali fought Jerry Quarry, had a second bout with Floyd Patterson and faced Bob Foster in 1972, winning a total of six fights that year. In 1973, Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw while giving him the second loss of his career. After initially considering retirement, Ali won a controversial decision against Norton in their second bout. This led to a rematch with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974 Frazier had recently lost his title to George Foreman.

Second fight against Joe Frazier Edit

Ali was strong in the early rounds of the fight, and staggered Frazier in the second round. Referee Tony Perez mistakenly thought he heard the bell ending the round and stepped between the two fighters as Ali was pressing his attack, giving Frazier time to recover. However, Frazier came on in the middle rounds, snapping Ali's head in round seven and driving him to the ropes at the end of round eight. The last four rounds saw round-to-round shifts in momentum between the two fighters. Throughout most of the bout, however, Ali was able to circle away from Frazier's dangerous left hook and to tie Frazier up when he was cornered, the latter a tactic that Frazier's camp complained of bitterly. Judges awarded Ali a unanimous decision.

The Rumble in the Jungle Edit

The defeat of Frazier set the stage for a title fight against heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974—a bout nicknamed The Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman was considered one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history. In assessing the fight, analysts pointed out that Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, who had given Ali four tough battles and won two of them, had both been devastated by Foreman in second-round knockouts. Ali was 32 years old, and had clearly lost speed and reflexes since his twenties. Contrary to his later persona, Foreman was at the time a brooding and intimidating presence. Almost no-one associated with the sport, not even Ali's long-time supporter Howard Cosell, gave the former champion a chance of winning.

As usual, Ali was confident and colorful before the fight. He told interviewer David Frost, "If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait 'til I whup Foreman's behind!" [43] He told the press, "I've done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick I'm so mean I make medicine sick." [44] Ali was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting "Ali, bomaye" ("Ali, kill him") wherever he went.

Ali opened the fight moving and scoring with right crosses to Foreman's head. Then, beginning in the second round, and to the consternation of his corner, Ali retreated to the ropes and invited Foreman to hit him while covering up, clinching and counter-punching, all while verbally taunting Foreman. The move, which would later become known as the "Rope-a-dope", so violated conventional boxing wisdom—letting one of the hardest hitters in boxing strike at will—that at ringside writer George Plimpton thought the fight had to be fixed. [40] Foreman, increasingly angered, threw punches that were deflected and did not land squarely. Midway through the fight, as Foreman began tiring, Ali countered more frequently and effectively with punches and flurries, which electrified the pro-Ali crowd. In the eighth round, Ali dropped an exhausted Foreman with a combination at center ring Foreman failed to make the count. Against the odds, and amidst pandemonium in the ring, Ali had regained the title by knockout. Reflecting on the fight, George Foreman later said: "I thought Ali was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: 'That all you got, George?' I realized that this ain't what I thought it was." [45]

Fights against Wepner, Lyle and Bugner Edit

Ali's next opponents included Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, and Joe Bugner. Wepner, a journeyman known as "The Bayonne Bleeder", stunned Ali with a knockdown in the ninth round Ali would later say he tripped on Wepner's foot. It was a bout that would inspire Sylvester Stallone to create the acclaimed film, Rocky. [46]

Third fight against Joe Frazier Edit

Ali then agreed to a third match with Joe Frazier in Manila. The bout, known as the "Thrilla in Manila", was held on October 1, 1975, [34] in temperatures approaching 100 °F (38 °C). In the first rounds, Ali was aggressive, moving and exchanging blows with Frazier. However, Ali soon appeared to tire and adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy, frequently resorting to clinches. During this part of the bout Ali did some effective counter-punching, but for the most part absorbed punishment from a relentlessly attacking Frazier. In the 12th round, Frazier began to tire, and Ali scored several sharp blows that closed Frazier's left eye and opened a cut over his right eye. With Frazier's vision now diminished, Ali dominated the 13th and 14th rounds, at times conducting what boxing historian Mike Silver called "target practice" on Frazier's head. The fight was stopped when Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to answer the bell for the 15th and final round, despite Frazier's protests. Frazier's eyes were both swollen shut. Ali, in his corner, winner by TKO, slumped on his stool, clearly spent.

An ailing Ali said afterwards that the fight "was the closest thing to dying that I know", and, when later asked if he had viewed the fight on videotape, reportedly said, "Why would I want to go back and see Hell?" After the fight he cited Frazier as "the greatest fighter of all times next to me."

Following the Manila bout, Ali fought Jean-Pierre Coopman, Jimmy Young, and Richard Dunn, winning the last by knockout.

On June 1, 1976, Ali removed his shirt and jacket and confronted professional wrestler Gorilla Monsoon in the ring after his match at a World Wide Wrestling Federation show in Philadelphia Arena. After dodging a few punches, Monsoon put Ali in an airplane spin and dumped him to the mat. Ali stumbled to the corner, where his associate Butch Lewis convinced him to walk away. [47]

On June 26, 1976, Ali participated in an exhibition bout in Tokyo against Japanese professional wrestler and martial artist Antonio Inoki. [48] Ali was only able to land two jabs while Inoki's kicks caused two blood clots and an infection that almost resulted in Ali's leg being amputated. [48] [49] The match was not scripted and ultimately declared a draw. [48] After Ali's death, The New York Times declared it his least memorable fight. [49] Most boxing commentators at the time viewed the fight negatively and hoped it would be forgotten as some considered it a "15-round farce." [50] Today it is considered by some to be one of Ali's most influential fights and CBS Sports said the attention the mixed-style bout received "foretold the arrival of standardized MMA years later." [50] [51]

Ali fought Ken Norton for the third time in September 1976. The bout, which was held at Yankee Stadium, resulted in Ali winning a heavily contested decision that was loudly booed by the audience. Afterwards, he announced he was retiring from boxing to practice his faith, having converted to Sunni Islam after falling out with the Nation of Islam the previous year. [52]

After returning to beat Alfredo Evangelista in May 1977, Ali struggled in his next fight against Earnie Shavers that September, getting pummeled a few times by punches to the head. Ali won the fight by another unanimous decision, but the bout caused his longtime doctor Ferdie Pacheco to quit after he was rebuffed for telling Ali he should retire. Pacheco was quoted as saying, "the New York State Athletic Commission gave me a report that showed Ali's kidneys were falling apart. I wrote to Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, his wife and Ali himself. I got nothing back in response. That's when I decided enough is enough." [40]

In February 1978, Ali faced Leon Spinks at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. At the time, Spinks had only seven professional fights to his credit, and had recently fought a draw with journeyman Scott LeDoux. Ali sparred less than two dozen rounds in preparation for the fight, and was seriously out of shape by the opening bell. He lost the title by split decision. A rematch occurred in September at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. 70,000 people attended the bout and paid a total of $6 million admission, making it the largest live gate in boxing history at that time. [53] Ali won a unanimous decision in an uninspiring fight, with referee Lucien Joubert scoring rounds 10-4, judge Ernie Cojoe 10-4, and judge Herman Preis 11-4. This made Ali the first heavyweight champion to win the belt three times. [54] [55]

Following this win, on July 27, 1979, Ali announced his retirement from boxing. His retirement was short-lived, however Ali announced his comeback to face Larry Holmes for the WBC belt in an attempt to win the heavyweight championship an unprecedented fourth time. The fight was largely motivated by Ali's need for money. Holmes' trainer Richie Giachetti said, "Larry didn't want to fight Ali. He knew Ali had nothing left he knew it would be a horror."

It was around this time that Ali started struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands. [56] The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) ordered that he undergo a complete physical in Las Vegas before being allowed to fight again. Ali chose instead to check into the Mayo Clinic, who declared him fit to fight. Their opinion was accepted by the NAC on July 31, 1980, paving the way for Ali's return to the ring. [57]

The fight took place on October 2, 1980, in Las Vegas Valley, with Holmes easily dominating Ali, who was weakened from thyroid medication he had taken to lose weight. Giachetti called the fight "awful . the worst sports event I ever had to cover." Actor Sylvester Stallone was at ringside and said that it was like watching an autopsy on a man who is still alive. [40] In the eleventh round, Angelo Dundee told the referee to stop the fight, making it the only time that Ali ever lost by stoppage. After the fight, Holmes went back to his dressing room and cried. The Holmes fight is said to have contributed to Ali's Parkinson's syndrome. [58] Despite pleas to definitively retire, Ali fought one last time on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas, against Trevor Berbick, losing a ten-round decision. [59] [60] [61]

By the end of his boxing career Ali had absorbed 200,000 hits. [62]

Ali had a highly unorthodox boxing style for a heavyweight, epitomized by his catchphrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Never an overpowering puncher, Ali relied early in his career on his superior hand speed, superb reflexes and constant movement, dancing and circling opponents for most of the fight, holding his hands low and lashing out with a quick, cutting left jab that he threw from unpredictable angles. His footwork was so strong that it was extremely difficult for opponents to cut down the ring and corner Ali against the ropes. He was also able to quickly dodge punches with his head movement and footwork. [ citation needed ]

One of Ali's greatest tricks was to make opponents overcommit by pulling straight backward from punches. Disciplined, world-class boxers chased Ali and threw themselves off balance attempting to hit him because he seemed to be an open target, only missing and leaving themselves exposed to Ali's counter punches, usually a chopping right. [63] Slow motion replays show that this was precisely the way Sonny Liston was hit and apparently knocked out by Ali in their second fight. [64] Ali often flaunted his movement by dancing the "Ali Shuffle", a sort of center-ring jig. [65] Ali's early style was so unusual that he was initially discounted because he reminded boxing writers of a lightweight, and it was assumed he would be vulnerable to big hitters like Sonny Liston. [ citation needed ]

Jimmy Jacobs, who co-managed Mike Tyson, used a synchronizer to measure young Ali's punching speed versus Sugar Ray Robinson, a welter/middleweight who was considered pound-for-pound the best fighter in history. Ali was 25% faster than Robinson, even though Ali was 45–50 pounds heavier. [66] Ali's punches produced approximately 1,000 pounds of force. [67] "No matter what his opponents heard about him, they didn't realize how fast he was until they got in the ring with him", Jacobs said. [68] The effect of Ali's punches was cumulative. Charlie Powell, who fought Ali early in Ali's career and was knocked out in the third round, said: "When he first hit me I said to myself, 'I can take two of these to get one in myself.' But in a little while I found myself getting dizzier and dizzier every time he hit me. He throws punches so easily that you don't realize how much they hurt you until it's too late." [12]

Commenting on fighting the young Ali, George Chuvalo said: "He was just so damn fast. When he was young, he moved his legs and hands at the same time. He threw his punches when he was in motion. He'd be out of punching range, and as he moved into range he'd already begun to throw the punch. So if you waited until he got into range to punch back, he beat you every time." [40]

Floyd Patterson said, "It's very hard to hit a moving target, and (Ali) moved all the time, with such grace, three minutes of every round for fifteen rounds. He never stopped. It was extraordinary." [40]

Darrell Foster, who trained Will Smith for the movie Ali, said: "Ali's signature punches were the left jab and the overhand right. But there were at least six different ways Ali used to jab. One was a jab that Ali called the 'snake lick', like cobra striking that comes from the floor almost, really low down. Then there was Ali's rapid-fire jab—three to five jabs in succession rapidly fired at his opponents' eyes to create a blur in [the latter's] face so he wouldn't be able to see [Ali's] right hand coming behind it." [69]

Footwork Edit

An unconventional "dancing" style of footwork was popularized by Ali in the 1960s. He moved side to side, and forward and back, while bouncing on the balls of his feet and dancing around his opponents. This allowed him to quickly move to wherever he wanted in the ring. He also occasionally shuffled his feet back and forth quickly, confusing his opponents before landing a blow, a move called the Ali shuffle. [70] [71] His unconventional footwork was referred to as the "dancing legs" at the time. [72]

Ali's footwork notably influenced martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, who studied Ali's footwork and incorporated it into his own Jeet Kune Do style of hybrid martial arts in the 1960s. [73]

Trash-talk Edit

Ali regularly taunted and baited his opponents—including Liston, Frazier, and Foreman—before the fight and often during the bout itself. He said Frazier was "too dumb to be champion", that he would whip Liston "like his Daddy did", that Terrell was an "Uncle Tom" for refusing to call Ali by his name and continuing to call him Cassius Clay, and that Patterson was a "rabbit." In speaking of how Ali stoked Liston's anger and overconfidence before their first fight, one writer commented that "the most brilliant fight strategy in boxing history was devised by a teenager who had graduated 376 in a class of 391." [66]

Ali typically portrayed himself as the "people's champion" and his opponent as a tool of the (white) establishment. During the early part of his career, he built a reputation for predicting rounds in which he would finish opponents, often vowing to crawl across the ring or to leave the country if he lost the bout. [34] Ali adopted the latter practice from "Gorgeous" George Wagner, a professional wrestling champion who drew thousands of fans to his matches as "the man you love to hate." [34] When Ali was 19, Wagner, who was in town to wrestle Freddie Blassie and had crossed paths with Clay, [14] told the boxer before a bout with Duke Sabedong in Las Vegas, [14] "A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous." [13]

ESPN columnist Ralph Wiley called Ali "The King of Trash Talk". [74] In 2013, The Guardian said Ali exemplified boxing's "golden age of trash-talking." [75] Bleacher Report called Clay's description of Sonny Liston smelling like a bear and his vow to donate him to a zoo after he beat him the greatest trash-talk line in sports history. [76]

Rope-a-dope Edit

In the opinion of many observers, Ali became a different fighter after the 3½-year layoff. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali's corner physician, noted that he had lost his ability to move and dance as before. [40] This forced Ali to become more stationary and exchange punches more frequently, exposing him to more punishment while indirectly revealing his tremendous ability to take a punch. This physical change led in part to the "rope-a-dope" strategy, where Ali would lie back on the ropes, cover up to protect himself and conserve energy, and tempt opponents to punch themselves out. Ali often taunted opponents in the process and lashed back with sudden, unexpected combinations. The strategy was dramatically successful in the George Foreman fight, but less so in the first Joe Frazier bout when it was introduced. [ citation needed ]

Later years Edit

Of his later career, Arthur Mercante said: "Ali knew all the tricks. He was the best fighter I ever saw in terms of clinching. Not only did he use it to rest, but he was big and strong and knew how to lean on opponents and push and shove and pull to tire them out. Ali was so smart. Most guys are just in there fighting, but Ali had a sense of everything that was happening, almost as though he was sitting at ringside analyzing the fight while he fought it." [40]

In the mid-1970s, Ali took an interest in Asian martial arts, such as karate and taekwondo. The founder of American taekwondo, Jhoon Goo Rhee, coached Ali for several fights. A punching technique that Rhee taught him was the "accupunch", a technique that Rhee himself had originally learnt from Bruce Lee. The "accupunch" is a rapid fast punch that is very difficult to block, based on human reaction time—"the idea is to finish the execution of the punch before the opponent can complete the brain-to-wrist communication." Ali was reportedly unable to block the punch when Rhee first demonstrated it to him. Ali later used the "accupunch" to knockout Richard Dunn in 1976. [77]

Ali and Frazier Edit

Friendship Edit

In an interview published in 2002, Joe Frazier recalled that he had first met Ali around 1968. At this time Ali was continuing his legal fight to get his boxing license back, and Frazier was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Frazier stated that he had campaigned vigorously for Ali to get his license this included going to Washington and meeting the president to lobby on Ali's behalf. Frazier also lent Ali some money at this time. [78]

According to Dave Wolf, former sports editor of Life and a member of Frazier's entourage, Frazier was keen for Ali's return to boxing, because he believed that beating Ali would win him unambiguous acknowledgement as the "best." [79] According to Wolf, Frazier was also kind to Ali during this time—agreeing to participate in staged confrontations, which enabled Ali to get publicity and earn money giving lectures. Wolf states that Frazier had deep respect for Ali's religious beliefs, and even participated in Muslim services at Ali's suggestion. Until Ali got "nasty" before their first fight, Frazier endorsed Ali's refusal to be drafted Wolf recalls: "I remember [Frazier] telling me, 'If Baptists weren't allowed to fight, I wouldn't fight either'." [79]

Ali and Frazier knew they would become wealthy if Ali returned to the ring. [80] [81] Prior to their first fight, both had expressed a liking for each other. [82] In 1970, Ali had stated: "Me and Joe Frazier will be buddies. I just want it to go down in history that I didn't sell out or Uncle Tom when I got famous, and I don't think Joe Frazier's going to do that either. He ain't dumb." [82]

Opponents Edit

Ali and Frazier fought three fights in the span of five years the first and third of these are widely regarded to be among the greatest of all boxing bouts, and the Ali-Frazier rivalry has been hailed as one of the greatest any sport has seen. [83] [84] Writing in Sports Illustrated, William Nack commented:

Of all the names joined forever in the annals of boxing—from Dempsey-Tunney to Louis-Schmeling, from Zale-Graziano to Leonard-Hearns—none are more fiercely bound by a hyphen than Ali-Frazier. Not Palmer-Nicklaus in golf nor Borg-McEnroe in tennis, as ardently competitive as these rivalries were, conjure up anything remotely close to the epic theater of Ali-Frazier. [84]

According to Ali, Frazier's style of boxing made him a tougher opponent for him than Liston or Foreman because he was vulnerable to Frazier's in-close left hook. Had he fought with Frazier before his three-and-half year break from boxing, when he was younger, "I'd have danced for fifteen rounds, and Joe wouldn't have ever caught me." [85] [a]

After Thrilla in Manila, Frazier called Ali "a great champion", [86] and, referring to Ali, graciously stated that "[m]y man fought a good fight" [87] while Ali declared Frazier to be "the greatest fighter of all time next to me." [88]

Trash-talk and altercations Edit

In the buildup to their bouts, Ali called Frazier "dumb" and an "Uncle Tom" before their first, "ignorant" before the second, and a "gorilla" before the third. [89] [90] Writers Dennis and Don Atyeo have noted that given Ali's warm words for Frazier in the past, his jibes about Frazier sounded hollow. [82]

On January 23, 1974, five days before their second fight, Ali and Frazier had a public altercation captured on television. ABC Sports' Howard Cosell had arranged for the two to come to the studio to comment on their first fight. Things went smoothly until Frazier commented about Ali having to visit a hospital after the fight. Ali immediately responded by claiming he had gone to a hospital for ten minutes whereas Frazier had been hospitalized for three weeks after the fight, [b] and concluded by calling Frazier "ignorant." [92] [93] Frazier then snapped removing his studio earplug, Frazier reached across to Ali, protesting the use of the word "ignorant." [91] [92] Soon the two were wrestling on the floor, until they were separated by onlookers. [92] [94] [c]

According to veteran boxing commentator Ronnie Nathanielsz, during the buildup to Thrilla in Manilla, Ali once awakened Frazier in the middle of the night by constantly screaming. When Frazier appeared on the balcony of his hotel room, Ali pointed a toy gun at him and shouted: "I am going to shoot you." [87]

Immediately after Thrilla in Manilla, Ali summoned Frazier's son Marvis to his dressing room and apologized for the things he had said about Frazier. [96] [d] When Marvis conveyed Ali's contrition to his father, Frazier commented that Ali should have communicated this to him directly. [96] After returning to the United States, Ali called boxing promoter and manager Butch Lewis, and asked for Frazier's private number, saying he wanted to apologize to Frazier. However, when Lewis conveyed this request to Frazier, he was told not to share the phone number with Ali. [84]

Finale Edit

In 1988, Ali and Frazier joined George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Ken Norton in Las Vegas for the making of the film Champions Forever. At a local gym, Frazier came across Ali before a crowd of spectators, and said: "Look at Ali. Look what's happened to him. All your talkin', man. I'm faster than you are now. You're damaged goods." [84] Ali, already afflicted with Parkinson's, insisted that he remained faster than Frazier and pointing to a heavy bag suggested the two compete to see which of them could hit the bag the fastest. Frazier immediately took off his coat, moved to the bag and threw a dozen rapid punches at it accompanied by loud grunts. Without removing his coat, Ali strolled towards the bag, held the ready stance, mimicked one of Frazier's grunts without throwing a punch, and then addressed Frazier with the words "Wanna see it again, Joe?" Everyone laughed, except Frazier. [84]

Later that day, Frazier started walking towards Ali after having had too much to drink. Ali biographer Thomas Hauser, who was present, recalled that for the next 10 minutes Larry Holmes positioned himself between Ali and Frazier, preventing Frazier from reaching Ali. George Foreman then took over and acted as Ali's shield for the next 10 minutes. Throughout this incident, Ali remained oblivious to what was going on. [84]

In his 1996 autobiography Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, in which he always refers to Ali as Cassius Clay, [97] Frazier wrote:

Truth is, I'd like to rumble with that sucker [Ali] again—beat him up piece by piece and mail him back to Jesus. . Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren't going so well for him. Nope. I don't. Fact is, I don't give a damn. They want me to love him, but I'll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the Lord chooses to take him. [84] [98]

Commenting on Ali lighting the Olympic flame in 1996, Frazier stated that it would have been good if Ali had fallen into the cauldron after lighting the flame, and that he would have pushed Ali in himself if he had the chance to do so. [84] [99] [100] In a press conference held on July 30, 1996, Frazier accused Ali of being a "draft dodger" and a racist, [e] and claimed he would have been a better choice to light the Olympic flame. [84] Also in 1996, Frazier claimed Ali was suffering from "Joe Frazier-itis" and "left-hook-itis." [84]

In a 1997 interview, Frazier expressed no regret for the words he had used for Ali at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. According to Frazier:

We weren't animals. We were human beings. He called me a gorilla. An Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom? I grew up so poor and so black in South Carolina, even the water we drank was colored. The only guy I 'tommed' for was him, giving in to him. God gave him so many gifts. Fast. Pretty. Smart. Strong. He didn't have to do what he did. [100]

In a 2001 interview with The New York Times, Ali again apologized to Frazier for calling him names which, Ali claimed, was done to promote their fights. Frazier initially accepted the apology saying it was time to put this issue behind them. [101] However, subsequently Frazier commented that Ali should apologize directly to him instead of apologizing through a newspaper. Reacting to this, Ali stated: "If you see Frazier, you tell him he's still a gorilla." [102]

In his interview in Stephen Brunt's 2002 book Facing Ali, Frazier, referring to how he had contributed to Ali's infirmity, claimed he was sure Ali thinks of him whenever he gets out of bed, and that whatever Ali was undergoing was the will of God. [103] [f]

In a 2008 interview, Frazier stated he had forgiven Ali, but was unable to comment on whether Ali's present condition was due to divine punishment, as he had earlier stated, since "God works in a mysterious way." [104]

In 2011, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Ali, and the year of his death, Frazier reiterated that he had forgiven Ali. [100] [g] Frazier's funeral service was attended by Ali who reportedly stood and clapped vigorously when the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked the mourners to stand and bring their hands together one last time for Frazier. [105]

Major world titles Edit

Other world titles Edit

The Ring magazine titles Edit

Lineal titles Edit

Regional titles Edit

Honorary titles and awards Edit

    champion (2×) light heavyweight champion (gold medal)
  • Associated Press Athlete of the Year
  • International Press Athlete of the Year (3×) [107] (6×) (6×)
Professional record summary
61 fights 56 wins 5 losses
By knockout 37 1
By decision 19 4
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Age Location Notes
61 Loss 56–5 Trevor Berbick UD 10 Dec 11, 1981 39 years, 328 days Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, Nassau, Bahamas
60 Loss 56–4 Larry Holmes RTD 10 (15), 3:00 Oct 2, 1980 38 years, 259 days Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S. For WBC and vacant The Ring heavyweight titles
59 Win 56–3 Leon Spinks UD 15 Sep 15, 1978 36 years, 241 days Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Won WBA and The Ring heavyweight titles
58 Loss 55–3 Leon Spinks SD 15 Feb 15, 1978 36 years, 29 days Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S. Lost WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
57 Win 55–2 Earnie Shavers UD 15 Sep 29, 1977 35 years, 255 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
56 Win 54–2 Alfredo Evangelista UD 15 May 16, 1977 35 years, 119 days Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
55 Win 53–2 Ken Norton UD 15 Sep 28, 1976 34 years, 255 days Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
54 Win 52–2 Richard Dunn TKO 5 (15), 2:05 May 24, 1976 34 years, 128 days Olympiahalle, Munich, West Germany Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
53 Win 51–2 Jimmy Young UD 15 Apr 30, 1976 34 years, 104 days Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
52 Win 50–2 Jean-Pierre Coopman KO 5 (15), 2:46 Feb 20, 1976 34 years, 34 days Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
51 Win 49–2 Joe Frazier RTD 14 (15), 3:00 Oct 1, 1975 33 years, 257 days Philippine Coliseum, Quezon City, Philippines Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
RTD according to some contemporary sources
50 Win 48–2 Joe Bugner UD 15 Jun 30, 1975 33 years, 164 days Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
49 Win 47–2 Ron Lyle TKO 11 (15), 1:08 May 16, 1975 33 years, 119 days Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
48 Win 46–2 Chuck Wepner TKO 15 (15), 2:41 Mar 24, 1975 33 years, 66 days Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
47 Win 45–2 George Foreman KO 8 (15), 2:58 Oct 30, 1974 32 years, 286 days Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, Zaire Won WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
46 Win 44–2 Joe Frazier UD 12 Jan 28, 1974 32 years, 11 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NABF heavyweight title
45 Win 43–2 Rudie Lubbers UD 12 Oct 20, 1973 31 years, 276 days Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta, Indonesia
44 Win 42–2 Ken Norton SD 12 Sep 10, 1973 31 years, 236 days The Forum, Inglewood, California, U.S. Won NABF heavyweight title
43 Loss 41–2 Ken Norton SD 12 Mar 31, 1973 31 years, 73 days Sports Arena, San Diego, California, U.S. Lost NABF heavyweight title
42 Win 41–1 Joe Bugner UD 12 Feb 14, 1973 31 years, 28 days Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.
41 Win 40–1 Bob Foster KO 8 (12), 0:40 Nov 21, 1972 30 years, 309 days Sahara Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada, U.S. Retained NABF heavyweight title
40 Win 39–1 Floyd Patterson RTD 7 (12), 3:00 Sep 20, 1972 30 years, 247 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NABF heavyweight title
39 Win 38–1 Alvin Lewis TKO 11 (12), 1:15 Jul 19, 1972 30 years, 184 days Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
38 Win 37–1 Jerry Quarry TKO 7 (12), 0:19 Jun 27, 1972 30 years, 162 days Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S. Retained NABF heavyweight title
37 Win 36–1 George Chuvalo UD 12 May 1, 1972 30 years, 105 days Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Retained NABF heavyweight title
36 Win 35–1 Mac Foster UD 15 Apr 1, 1972 30 years, 75 days Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
35 Win 34–1 Jürgen Blin KO 7 (12), 2:12 Dec 26, 1971 29 years, 343 days Hallenstadion, Zürich, Switzerland
34 Win 33–1 Buster Mathis UD 12 Nov 17, 1971 29 years, 304 days Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. Retained NABF heavyweight title
33 Win 32–1 Jimmy Ellis TKO 12 (12), 2:10 Jul 26, 1971 29 years, 190 days Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. Won vacant NABF heavyweight title
32 Loss 31–1 Joe Frazier UD 15 Mar 8, 1971 29 years, 50 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. For WBA, WBC, and vacant The Ring heavyweight titles
31 Win 31–0 Oscar Bonavena TKO 15 (15), 2:03 Dec 7, 1970 28 years, 324 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Won vacant NABF heavyweight title
30 Win 30–0 Jerry Quarry RTD 3 (15), 3:00 Oct 26, 1970 28 years, 282 days Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
29 Win 29–0 Zora Folley KO 7 (15), 1:48 Mar 22, 1967 25 years, 64 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained WBA, WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
28 Win 28–0 Ernie Terrell UD 15 Feb 6, 1967 25 years, 20 days Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
Won WBA heavyweight title
27 Win 27–0 Cleveland Williams TKO 3 (15), 1:08 Nov 14, 1966 24 years, 301 days Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
26 Win 26–0 Karl Mildenberger TKO 12 (15), 1:30 Sep 10, 1966 24 years, 236 days Waldstadion, Frankfurt, West Germany Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
25 Win 25–0 Brian London KO 3 (15), 1:40 Aug 6, 1966 24 years, 201 days Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London, England Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
24 Win 24–0 Henry Cooper TKO 6 (15), 1:38 May 21, 1966 24 years, 124 days Arsenal Stadium, London, England Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
23 Win 23–0 George Chuvalo UD 15 Mar 29, 1966 24 years, 71 days Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Canada Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
22 Win 22–0 Floyd Patterson TKO 12 (15), 2:18 Nov 22, 1965 23 years, 309 days Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S. Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
21 Win 21–0 Sonny Liston KO 1 (15), 2:12 May 25, 1965 23 years, 128 days Civic Center, Lewiston, Maine, U.S. Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
20 Win 20–0 Sonny Liston RTD 6 (15), 3:00 Feb 25, 1964 22 years, 39 days Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. Won WBA, WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
19 Win 19–0 Henry Cooper TKO 5 (10), 2:15 Jun 18, 1963 21 years, 152 days Wembley Stadium, London, England
18 Win 18–0 Doug Jones UD 10 Mar 13, 1963 21 years, 55 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
17 Win 17–0 Charlie Powell KO 3 (10), 2:04 Jan 24, 1963 21 years, 7 days Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
16 Win 16–0 Archie Moore TKO 4 (10), 1:35 Nov 15, 1962 20 years, 302 days Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
15 Win 15–0 Alejandro Lavorante KO 5 (10), 1:48 Jul 20, 1962 20 years, 184 days Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
14 Win 14–0 Billy Daniels TKO 7 (10), 2:21 May 19, 1962 20 years, 122 days St. Nicholas Arena, New York City, New York, U.S.
13 Win 13–0 George Logan TKO 4 (10), 1:34 Apr 23, 1962 20 years, 96 days Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
12 Win 12–0 Don Warner TKO 4 (10), 0:34 Feb 28, 1962 20 years, 70 days Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
11 Win 11–0 Sonny Banks TKO 4 (10), 0:26 Feb 10, 1962 20 years, 24 days Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
10 Win 10–0 Willi Besmanoff TKO 7 (10), 1:55 Nov 29, 1961 19 years, 316 days Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
9 Win 9–0 Alex Miteff TKO 6 (10), 1:45 Oct 7, 1961 19 years, 263 days Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
8 Win 8–0 Alonzo Johnson UD 10 Jul 22, 1961 19 years, 186 days Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
7 Win 7–0 Duke Sabedong UD 10 Jun 26, 1961 19 years, 160 days Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.
6 Win 6–0 LaMar Clark KO 2 (8), 1:27 Apr 19, 1961 19 years, 92 days Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
5 Win 5–0 Donnie Fleeman RTD 6 (8) Feb 21, 1961 19 years, 35 days Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
4 Win 4–0 Jim Robinson KO 1 (8), 1:34 Feb 7, 1961 19 years, 21 days Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
3 Win 3–0 Tony Esperti TKO 3 (8), 1:30 Jan 17, 1961 19 years, 0 days Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
2 Win 2–0 Herb Siler TKO 4 (8), 1:00 Dec 27, 1960 18 years, 345 days Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
1 Win 1–0 Tunney Hunsaker UD 6 Oct 29, 1960 18 years, 286 days Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

Muhammad Ali's fights were some of the world's most-watched television broadcasts, setting television viewership records. His most-watched fights drew an estimated 1–2 billion viewers worldwide between 1974 and 1980, and were the world's most-watched live television broadcasts at the time. [112]

Date Fight(s) Region(s) Viewers Source(s)
February 25, 1964 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Western world 165,950,000
Europe 165,000,000 [113]
United States (PPV) 950,000 [114] [115]
May 25, 1965 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II Worldwide 80,000,000 [116]
United Kingdom 7,000,000 [117]
May 21, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II Worldwide 200,000,000 [118]
United Kingdom 21,000,000 [119]
United States 20,000,000 [120]
March 8, 1971 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (Fight of the Century) Worldwide 300,000,000 [121]
United Kingdom 27,500,000 [122]
South Korea 2,000,000 [123]
February 14, 1973 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner United Kingdom 20,000,000 [124]
January 28, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier II (Super Fight II) Worldwide 200,000,000 [125]
October 30, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (The Rumble in the Jungle) Worldwide 1,000,000,000 [126] [127]
United Kingdom 26,000,000 [128]
May 16, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Ron Lyle United States 50,000,000 [129]
October 1, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III (Thrilla in Manila) Worldwide 1,000,000,000 [130]
February 20, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Jean-Pierre Coopman United States 40,000,000 [131]
April 30, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Young United States 33,700,000 [132]
May 24, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Richard Dunn United States 65,000,000 [133]
June 26, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki Worldwide 1,400,000,000 [134] [135]
Japan 54,000,000 [136]
September 28, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton III Worldwide 900,000,000 [137]
May 16, 1977 Muhammad Ali vs. Alfredo Evangelista United States 50,000,000 [138]
September 29, 1977 Muhammad Ali vs. Earnie Shavers United States 70,000,000 [133]
February 15, 1978 Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks United States 70,000,000 [139]
September 27, 1978 Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II Worldwide 2,000,000,000 [140] [141]
United States 90,000,000 [142] [143]
October 2, 1980 Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes (The Last Hurrah) Worldwide 2,000,000,000 [144]
Total viewership Worldwide 9,600,000,000

Pay-per-view bouts Edit

The earliest form of pay-per-view boxing telecasts was closed-circuit television, also known as theatre television, where fights were telecast live to a select number of venues, mostly theaters, where viewers paid for tickets to watch the fight live. The use of closed-circuit for boxing telecasts peaked in popularity with Ali in the 1960s and 1970s. [145] [121] Most of Ali's closed-circuit telecasts were handled by his promotion company Main Bout. [30] The following table lists known ticket sales/buys for Ali fights at closed-circuit venues/theaters:

Closed-circuit theatre television
Date Fight Billing [146] Region(s) Buys Revenue Revenue (inflation)
March 13, 1963 Cassius Clay vs. Doug Jones Clay vs. Jones United States 150,000 [147] $500,000 [148] $4,200,000
February 25, 1964 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Greatest Fight In History United States 700,000 [114] $5,000,000 [114] $41,700,000
May 25, 1965 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II Champion vs. Ex-Champion United States 630,000 [116] $4,300,000 [145] $35,300,000
November 22, 1965 Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson Ali vs. Patterson [149] United States 500,000 [150] $4,000,000 [145] $32,800,000
March 29, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo The Second Reckoning United States 46,000 [151] $230,000 [151] $1,830,000
May 21, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II Friday Night of the Century England 40,000 [152] $1,500,000 [152] $12,000,000
August 6, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Brian London Ali vs. British Bulldog England 38,000 [153] $300,000 [152] $2,400,000
November 14, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams Ali vs. Williams United States 500,000 [152] $3,750,000 [152] $30,800,000
February 6, 1967 Muhammad Ali vs. Ernie Terrell The Battle of Champions United States 800,000 [154] $4,000,000 [154] $31,900,000
January 20, 1970 Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano The Super Fight Western world $5,000,000 [155] $33,300,000
United States 500,000 [156] [157] $2,500,000 [156] $16,700,000
October 26, 1970 Muhammad Ali vs. Jerry Quarry Return of the Champion United States 630,000 [158] [114] $3,500,000 [159] $23,300,000
March 8, 1971 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier Fight of the Century Anglosphere 2,590,000 $45,750,000 $300,000,000
United States 2,500,000 [160] $45,000,000 [161] $288,000,000
London 90,000 [162] $750,000 [163] $4,800,000
February 14, 1973 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner Fight of a Lifetime United Kingdom 30,000 [164] $300,000 [164] $1,700,000
January 28, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier II Super Fight II United States 1,100,000 [165] $17,000,000 [165] $89,200,000
October 30, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman The Rumble in the Jungle Worldwide 50,000,000 [166] $100,000,000 [167] [168] $520,000,000
United States 3,000,000 [121] $60,000,000 [121] $314,900,000
March 24, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner Chance of a Lifetime United States 500,000 [169] $5,000,000 [170] $24,000,000
October 1, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III Thrilla in Manila Worldwide 100,000,000 [171] $100,000,000 $500,000,000
United States 3,000,000 [121] $60,000,000 [121] $289,000,000
June 26, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki War of the Worlds United States 2,000,000 [172] $20,000,000 [173] $90,000,000
September 28, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton III Ali's Revenge United States 1,500,000 [174] $33,500,000 [175] [176] $152,400,000
March 31, 1985 WrestleMania I WrestleMania United States 1,000,000 [177] $10,000,000 [178] $24,100,000
Total sales Worldwide 162,154,000 $364,380,000 $1,901,930,000

Professional boxing was introduced to pay-per-view home cable television with several Muhammad Ali fights, especially the Thrilla in Manila fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975, which was transmitted through HBO. [179] [180] Ali had several fights broadcast on early pay-per-view home television:

Pay-per-view home television
Date Fight Billing [146] Network Region(s) Buys Revenue Revenue (inflation)
March 13, 1963 Cassius Clay vs. Doug Jones Clay vs. Jones United States [148]
February 25, 1964 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Greatest Fight In History WHCT [181] United States 250,000 [115] $750,000 [182] [183] $6,300,000
November 22, 1965 Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson Ali vs. Patterson United States $150,000 [184] $1,200,000
May 21, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II Friday Night of the Century Pay TV United Kingdom 40,000 [120] $448,004 [185] [186] $3,830,000
November 14, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Ernie Terrell The Battle of Champions Hartford United States [187]
October 1, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III Thrilla in Manila HBO United States 500,000 [188] $10,000,000 [189] $48,100,000
December 11, 1981 Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick Drama in Bahama SelectTV United States [190]
Total sales 790,000 $11,348,004 $56,100,000

[Frazier] was harder for me than Liston or Foreman, because he had what I was vulnerable to—a good in-close left hook. Foreman wasn't an infighter or a hooker. He was an uppercutter with a right hand and a jab, always looking you in the eye. Liston was scarier than Frazier, but I fought Liston when I was young. Joe stayed on me, always on my chest, and from out of nowhere he'd throw the hook. If I was young, I'd have danced for fifteen rounds, and Joe wouldn't have ever caught me. But the first time we fought, I was three-and-half years out of shape.

Ali asked for me to come to his dressing room before any of the press arrived. I went in there and Ali was real tired and he hugged me and apologized for what he'd said about my father before the fight. He said, 'Tell your father he's a great man'.

The history of the Heavyweight Championship- 1971

In 1971 the Fight of the Century took place at Madison Square Garden on the 8 th of March.

Joe Frazier was the unbeaten world heavyweight champion and Muhammad Ali was the unbeaten former world heavyweight champion. It was a unique fight, the world of sport demanded it – the boxing world needed it.

The two boxers would make a guarantee of 2.5 million dollars each… never had a purse in the old game been anywhere near that excessive total. It was highest purse ever paid to a boxer and it was being paid to both. The promoters, however, expected to gross in excess of 40 million dollars. Boxing insiders and the business world laughed at the projected figures. This was not a normal fight: “It was the single most spectacular event in sports history,” wrote Pete Hamill, journalist and author.

The fighters had agreed terms just before New Year in late 1970. The two promoters – Jerry Parenchio and Jack Kent Cooke – had somehow found a deal from the relentless negotiations, and had come up with the incredible sums of money to make the seemingly impossible happen.

Parenchio was a Hollywood guy, a super-agent to the movie world’s most glittering stars, with Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on his books. He had not met either of the boxers until they sat down in New York. Now that is… a shot in the dark.

Kent Cooke owned the LA Lakers and a lot of other West Coast businesses. He had met Ali.

Madison Square Garden found the necessary 500,000 to make the five-million-dollar offer a reality. This was jaw-dropping cash, make no mistake.

“It’s potentially the greatest single grosser in the history of the world. It’s like Gone with the Wind. It’s the Mona Lisa,” said Parenchio. It was a little bit special.

In the end 369 cinemas in America and Canada screened the fight live on closed-circuit. The Garden sold out – of course – with exactly 20,455 tickets sold. The celebrities came out again. Dustin Hoffman, who had been running in camp with Ali, was a late dressing room visitor. Diana Ross was there again. Burt Lancaster was part of the broadcast team and – probably most famously – Frank Sinatra was the official ring photographer for Life magazine. Old blue eyes actually had a press pass and took the Life front-cover picture. Well, that’s just one of the stories. And, believe me… it was a night of tall tales.

The build-up had been predictably fantastic: “Ali was a celebrity on the streets of the world,” wrote Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times. Ali liked Lipsyte – a lot of the press still did not like Ali.

“It goes back to the days when Clay’s posturing and preening and rancid verse and self-praise began to make total strangers yearn to see him stopped with a fistful of knuckles. Frazier is the first candidate conceded a chance to accomplish this,” wrote syndicated columnist Red Smith – Smith had been in the writing game since the late 1920s.

Ali had some real enemies – there was a lot of pressure placed on the Garden management by Veterans’ groups – men that had served in foreign wars – and the press went along merrily for the ugly ride. Ali, however, did give them some serious content to the newspaper men when he started to question Frazier’s blackness.

“Ali, in his charming and shrewd way, will paint Frazier as the standard bearer for white bigots. It is a cruel and unworthy thing he does.” Dick Young in the New York Daily News.

“It is slanderous and cruel, but Ali’s lie is still encouraged. Frazier is an honest man who is not a racial opportunist. He is black and just as proud of it as Ali.” Jimmy Cannon, syndicated columnist and Second World War veteran and correspondent.

Frazier received threats. Death threats. The police in Philadelphia were involved, treated the threats seriously – Joe Frazier, the heavyweight champion of the world had to relocate his family. This was war.

“It was cynical – an attempt to make me feel isolated – he said that 98 percent of the black people in this country are for him,” Frazier said in his autobiography in 1996. The figures were mumbo jumbo, invented, crazy…but they stuck. Ali was doing his job, selling the fight.

The press office at Madison Square Garden approved 760 members of the media and refused 500.

Once again the big fight attracted big people – masters of screen, and music, Mafia bosses, gangsters, fur-coated pimps, politicians, celebrities from all of the legal and illegal trades – it was a grand posse of the world’s finest, gathered for one night only in boxing’s ancient citadel to witness the Fight of the Century.

In Britain the tickets at cinemas in central London, Cardiff, Manchester and Leicester were on sale for between one pound fifty and 5.25 – the lights went down on the cinema aisles as the men walked to their destiny in New York. It is hard to imagine the feeling that night.

The night before the fight, Ali called Frazier for a chat. This actually happened. Ali was often bored before fights, sitting in his hotel room, Gene Kilroy, his friend and facilitator at his side.

“Joe Frazier, you ready?” he asked.

“I’m ready, brother,” Frazier replied.

That was it, the talking was over.

It was a great fight. Frazier put the pressure on from the first bell. Ali did keep moving. They were both hurt, both marked up. Ali had a good 9 th round – Frazier a really big 11 th . There was bedlam throughout. It was close going into the 15 th and last round. Most people had Frazier up by a round or two as the bell to start the final round sounded. The crowd stood, clapped the pair to centre ring.

Round 15 was epic. It remains the fastest three minutes of boxing I have ever witnessed. I had to put a stopwatch on it to check and it is 180 seconds, actually I make it 179 seconds. It is breathtaking.

Ali starts with a jab and a right cross, Frazier parries the punches, moves in, forcing Ali back and then after just 27 seconds Frazier lands his left hook- arguably the greatest left hook in boxing history – and down goes Ali, his legs up in the air, his eyes wide. Wow. There are two and half minutes left. How can Ali survive… can he even get up from the knockdown?

The referee, Arthur Mercante, sends Frazier to a neutral corner and turns round to start his count… and Ali is up!

“I never had time to pick up the count – Ali was up in three seconds,” said Mercante.

There is a standing eight count and it lasts exactly eight seconds … and then they continue fighting. Ali looks groggy. Frazier lands the exact same shot, a left hook…but, Ali is able to just lean back a fraction and take some of the power away. Ali holds, Frazier mercilessly hits away at the body. At the sixty second mark – there are still two minutes left – Frazier lands with a brutal right cross, Ali’s legs dip. Ali moves, flicks out a jab. Then at the ninety second mark …Frazier lands with another crunching left hook and Ali’s head swivels violently to the side, but he stays up. It is relentless. In the last minute, Ali makes Frazier miss and counters again and again. It is a remarkable recovery and then the bell ends the drama. The Fight of the Century is over.

“I don’t remember going down – only being down.” Muhammad Ali

“I promised him the ring would get smaller and I would get bigger.” Joe Frazier.

“Joe stayed on me, always on my chest from out of nowhere he’d throw the hook.” Muhammad Ali.

The two judges and Mercante, who was the third judge in the fight, delivered their scores: Frazier 9-6, Frazier 11-4 and Frazier 8-6 with one even – the final score, the closest score was from Mercante.

“He ain’t the greatest. He’s been kiddin’ himself and the world all these years. I shut his big mouth,” Frazier insisted that night – the taunting was over…well, that’s what he believed.

“Ali was fooling, more than fighting. He showed the world he could take a punch,” said Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer. Dundee wanted Ali to move more, jab more. A plan is fine, sensible, but a fifteen-round fight can change a man, change any plan. And, as Dundee admitted, Ali “does what he likes.” Ali needed to rest, sit on the ropes to get through the gruelling fifteen rounds.

Eddie Futch, working with Yank Durham in Frazier’s corner, had repeatedly told Frazier to work the body each time Ali went back to the ropes – Frazier always obeyed orders.

“I never wanted to lose, never thought I would, but the thing that matters is how you lose. I’m not crying – my friends should not cry,” said Ali. He praised Frazier.

There was one jubilant group – the older American boxing writers, veterans and ancient columnists, a cartel of open hate.

Red Smith was ecstatic: “If they fought a dozen times, Joe Frazier would whip Muhammad Ali a dozen times and it would get easier as it went along.” It never did, Red was wrong: They met twice more in the next four years and it got considerably harder for Frazier.

Hughie McIlvanney, the finest sports writer of his generation in Britain and a massive Ali fan, observed the lop-sided hate up close:

“They wanted a crucifixion, but if they think that is what they got they are bad judges of the genre: The big man came out bigger than he went in.”

The aftermath was as dramatic as the fight. Yank Durham went in to Ali’s dressing room to congratulate him – there was a joke about a rematch and the pair splitting six-million dollars. It was false gaiety, everybody was worn out. Frazier was actually thinking of retiring, and Durham backed the idea.

The right side of Ali’s face was swollen, grotesque. Ali was totally exhausted. “We dressed him like a drunk,” said Ali’s fight doctor, Ferdie Pacheco. Ali was taken to hospital for an x-ray on the jaw. It was not broken, just swollen. The x-rays were then stolen… and they are still missing.

Frazier went back to his hotel room, but he as was hurting all over, asking for some type of relief from the pain:

“I couldn’t urinate. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t eat or drink. My eyes were puffed and sensitive to light. My body had shut down from exhaustion.”

Frazier was transferred to St. Luke’s hospital in Philadelphia. His recovery was slow. He stayed, by his own admission, “several weeks” in hospital to recover. Frazier took the rest of the year off –he had made history, won the Fight of the Century and beaten Ali. And it had cost him.

“There would never be another night like it in my life,” said Frazier. He was right. He would not fight again until January of the following year. Frazier was unbeaten in 27 contests, just 27 years of age. The fight game could take a dreadful toll on committed men.

Ali was back in the ring a few months later and would fight three more times and with every fight, and in every round he was improving. His first fight after Frazier was a strange one. He met his old friend and one-time amateur opponent from Louisville, Jimmy Ellis.

It gets odder. Angelo Dundee was in Ellis’s corner! Angelo managed Ellis, trained Ali – that meant he got a third of Ellis’s purse. Angelo cleared it with Ali and the fight took place in front of 31,947 people at the Astrodome in Houston in June.

Ali had Bundini Brown and a veteran called Harry Wiley in his corner. It was a 12 round fight for the vacant NABF heavyweight title. Ellis was stopped in round 12 with just 50 seconds left on the clock. Ali had not even tried to carry his friend in those final seconds. When Ali had been in boxing exile, Ellis had paid him to be a sparring partner, a few hundred dollars to help with the bills. Ali was ruthless.

Bundini – the man who invented “Float like a Butterfly, sting like a Bee” – was often a divisive man in the corner. He had several run-ins with Dundee over the years. Bundini had been suspended by the New York commission after the Frazier fight because he had thrown water at Ali when he was knocked over in the last round. He was Ali’s man, make no mistake, but on occasion he would even upset his boss.

In November, Ali met Buster Mathis. Now Mathis was a man mountain. Tough. Ali dropped him twice in the 11 th and twice in the 12 th , but he let Buster survive… and Buster was swaying, finished and waiting to be knocked out. In Ali’s corner, Dundee was screaming: “Take him out, damn it, Ali.” The press were critical of Ali for not finishing Buster Mathis. Ali was not moved by criticism: “How can I go to sleep at night, knowing I have killed a man?”

On Boxing Day – December 26 th – Ali was in Switzerland to fight German Jürgen Blin. Ali won in the seventh and went on a little trip to the Middle East. He sat with President Gaddafi in Libya, telling stories. Gaddafi reminded Ali that they had met – it was London, Highbury Stadium after Ali beat Henry Cooper in 1966. “I came to your dressing room for an autograph,” Gaddafi said. Ali remembered. It is hard to invent this stuff. At the presidential palace in Tripoli, Ali also met President Idi Amin. They chatted, the Ugandan despot had been an amateur boxer. Crazy times.

Gene Kilroy always talked about kings, queens, presidents, rulers, bums, taxi drivers… Ali met them all, treated them all the same.

There was one other fight that Ali came close to having in 1971 – I thought this was nothing more than a joke, but it was very, very real in the end. Bob Arum – a promoter then and still a promoter four decades later – signed basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain to fight Ali. It was done and agreed. Wilt was in special training, working with Cus D’Amato, manager and trainer of Sixties heavyweight world champion Floyd Patterson and soon to shape, build and create future champion, Mike Tyson. Big Wilt – he was seven foot two inches tall and weighed nearly twenty stone – fancied the job.

However, at a press conference to announce the fight – it was in April – Chamberlain arrived and Ali hollered: “Timber”. Big Wilt was finished, he turned, he left the room and the fight was off.

In January of the year Ali and Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson had all gathered in Las Vegas with 700 other mourners for the funeral of former heavyweight world champion, Sonny Liston. His wife, Geraldine, had found him dead in their apartment a few days earlier. Suicide, murder, mistake, natural causes – the debate continues.

The old and new were lining up in a heavyweight business transformed by Ali’s return: Patterson was still punching, Cleveland Big Cat Williams was in his 21 st year as a pro, Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry – all still fighting, all dreaming of one more chance. It was a time for heavyweight dreamers.

In Britain, Henry Cooper had his last fight, his 55 th fight of a career that started in 1954, when Joe Bugner – who was still only 21 – beat him in front of 10,000 at Wembley Arena over 15 torrid rounds. It was a tight decision and Bugner received a lot of abuse. “What did I do wrong, I was just a young fighter doing my job,” Bugner told me in 2007 when I got him and Cooper together – it was the first time they had been together to talk about their fight. Cooper was still quite angry, Bugner still bemused by the abuse.

There were wins for Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers and Ron Lyle made his debut and stopped nine of his eleven victims: The future was looking very good.

However, there was one man out in front, fearsome, huge and already the number two ranked contender, second only to Ali: George Foreman was 22 in 1971 and finished the year –he had seven wins and seven knockouts – with a record of 32 unbeaten. The week after the Fight of the Century, with Frazier recovering in hospital, the Boxing News in Britain ran a font cover. There was a cut out – dreadful bit of cropping to tell the truth – of Foreman’s face, a malevolent look, a nasty glare and the headline: The Face that Haunts the Champ. The Frazier and Foreman fight was still nearly two years away.

The heavyweight championship had some fantastic nights to come.

The extraordinary year ended. Ali and Frazier would do it all again in two more fights. Foreman would get his chance, so would Bugner, Shavers, Lyle and Norton. Champions, great fighters and men that would never be forgotten – the decade was two years old and already iconic.

By November, Frazier had recovered and agreed a defence of his heavyweight championship in January 1972. The big guns were ready to get back in the ring.

Arthur Mercante, the referee of the Fight of the Century, had a great line about Ali – Mercante refereed a few of his fights: “If you could move with Ali, you had the best seat in the house.” Not everybody could be that close, but everybody wanted to be part of the heavyweight boxing revolution.

They were very special days and Ali, Frazier and Foreman had some serious business left.

Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali: The backstory

Ali was the owner of the WBA, WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles with a 29-0 professional record when he halted Zara Folley shortly after his 25th birthday. However it would turn out to be his last fight for 42 months. Frazier was a highly-rated prospect at the time of Ali vs. Folley, with a 14-0 record largely against low-level opponents in the Tri-State area.

As Ali's trials and tribulations unfolded outside the boxing ring, Frazier's momentum continued to grow. In March 1968, he halted Buster Mathis in the 11th of 15 rounds to win the NYSAC heavyweight title and in 1970 he captured the WBA title of Jerry Quarry with a four-round retirement finish, as well as the vacant WBC belt in the process, to become 'The Man.'

Given the circumstances, Ali's eventual winning return, also against Quarry, would turn the chatter of 'what if' into demands for the real deal. Six months later, the two would oblige.

A History of the Lineal Heavyweight Championship (1885 – 2021)

Starting with the original top division king John L. Sullivan up to the present day and current number one Tyson Fury.

In 1885, Sullivan’s win over Dominick McCaffrey took recognition as the place the lineal championship began.

Even though Sullivan didn’t defend his crown through four years between 1888 and 1892, a defense against undefeated James J. Corbett is in the record books as the maiden official world title fight at the weight.

Corbett became the first man to defeat Sullivan’s legend and began a reign lasting five years. Competing just twice in that period, Corbett then faced lower-weight ruler Bob Fitzsimmons and lost via KO.

Defending just once in two and a half years, Fitzsimmons eventually lost his title to James J. Jeffries in 1899. Jeffries, the most active champion of his era, defended the strap eight times, including against ex-rulers Fitzsimmons and Corbett, until retiring unbeaten in 1904.

Marvin Hart and Tommy Burns briefly took turns holding the mantle for the next three years until a confident Jack Johnson won the title in 1908.

Johnson made nine defenses in seven years, including a knockout over Jeffries, who came out of retirement in 1910 for a one-off special event.

In 1915, Jess Willard ended Johnson’s long spell at the helm in Havana, Cuba. Willard took the title back to the USA but made only one defense until running into the immortal Jack Dempsey.

According to early newspaper reports, dropping him seven times in the first round, Willard was severely beaten, as Dempsey began a great spell as champion.

Coming to the end of his career in 1926, Dempsey was dethroned by Gene Tunney in an epic match-up on points. The clash took place at the Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, witnessed by over 120,000 people.

Tunney and Dempsey would rematch a year later with the same result before the former fought Tom Heeney and bowed out of the sport himself in 1928.

For the first time, the lineal championship lay dormant for two years until Max Schmeling took the vacant honor against Jack Sharkey in June 1930.

Sharkey gained revenge two years later to begin a short reign himself before Primo Carnera, and Max Baer enjoyed brief spells at the top.

In 1935, along came ‘The Cinderella Man’ Jack Braddock to embark on the unlikeliest period of influence. Despite 23 losses on his record, the then 30 year-old shocked Baer via decision.

Two years passed without a fight before Joe Louis stepped in to challenge the aging Braddock in 1937. Braddock dropped Louis early on. But he was eventually taken out in the eighth.

The most prolonged era of all time was underway as Louis kept the crown for a full twelve years, ruling under an iron fist. Louis beat off 27 challenges to the throne before retiring with just one lone loss on his record in 1949.

Having been dropped in both victories over Jersey Joe Walcott before hanging up his gloves, Louis’ rival was put forward for the vacant championship later that year. Walcott favored defeat Ezzard Charles at Comiskey Park, Chicago but lost on points over the fifteen-round distance.

Charles made six defenses, including one over Louis on his 1950 comeback, before Walcott avenged his loss in 1951.

For good measure, Walcott won the rubber match with Charles a year later to cement his legacy. In 1952, at the age of 38, Walcott faced the undefeated Rocky Marciano in Philadelphia.

A mesmerizing battle ensued, with Marciano taking the title with a late knockout. A rematch eight months later ended in the very first round as Marciano went 43-0.

‘The Brockton Blockbuster’ made five defenses, including the 1953 and 1954 Fights of the Year against Roland LaStarza and former champion Ezzard Charles, before competing for the final time 1955 win over Archie Moore.

Marciano left boxing on a magical number of 49-0. The only heavyweight champion in history to retire without losing.

In June 1956, Moore battled Floyd Patterson for the vacant lineal championship. Patterson overcame a five-pound weight difference to stop Moore in the fifth and become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.

Four defenses in three years led Patterson to one of his greatest career rivals, Ingemar Johansson.

The rugged undefeated Swede took advantage of holding six pounds over a slighter Patterson to end the contest in three. Patterson subsequently bulked up to 190 pounds to win two rematches with Johansson in 1960 and 1961.

One further victory over Tom McNeeley saw Patterson then give away a stone to the formidable puncher, Sonny Liston.

Patterson was no match for the powerful Liston and was blasted out in the first round on two occasions over ten months.

Liston’s reign lasted only seven months, though, as the KO artist had a date with destiny against an infamous Olympic champion in 1964.

New kid on the block in young, brash talker Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, stunned the boxing world when becoming the youngest boxer to defeat a reigning title-holder.

Ali heralded the dawn of a new kind of champion. He completely changed the face of the sport for the better. He took the sport from a dark and murky place with his charisma, charm, and funny personality.

‘The Greatest’ stayed firm for six chequered years, fending off challenges from Patterson and England’s Henry Cooper (in a rematch of their first meeting in 1963). By this time, Ali owned the unified belts after unifying the WBA And WBC in 1962 and 1963 – respectively.

In 1966 after refusing to draft with the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam, Ali was stripped of his belts and subsequently threatened with prison.

Boxing’s lineage lay dormant for three years between 1967 and 1970 until Ali allowed Joe Frazier and Jimmy Ellis to battle it out for the belts.

Frazier took his opportunity in March by stopping Ellis in four. Ali then announced his return for October that same year.

One month after Ali defeated Jerry Quarry, Frazier halted Bob Foster, and the pair were on an inevitable collision course.

On March 8th of 1971, one of the greatest fights of the modern era took place. ‘The Fight of the Century’ saw Ali attempt to regain his crown, four years on from never losing it in the ring.

Fifteen pulsating rounds unfolded at Madison Square Garden, with Frazier knocking Ali down in the final round. On the cards, Frazier took it and with it ended Ali’s undefeated run.

Frazier would only compete twice after what proved a violent brawl with Ali before a hungry puncher named George Foreman came along.

Foreman was a concussive puncher, and Frazier lasted less than six minutes of their Kingston encounter.

‘Big George’ held the lineage for eighteen months. He then accepted a clash versus Ali himself scheduled for Zaire in 1974.

‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ will forever go down as one of the most memorable heavyweight title bouts of all time as Ali etched himself into the history books again with ‘Rope-A-Dope’ tactics forever etched in the memory.

Stopping Foreman in eight, Ali was once again on top of the world. Another four years steering the lineal ship followed until Leon Spinks did the unthinkable in 1978.

Competing in a mass of wars over the years, it proved one too many for Ali as Spinks took a split nod. In typical Ali fashion, the veteran won the rematch to become the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion in history.

Ali was ready to pass the torch, and in 1980, Larry Holmes battered the aging legend for ten rounds.

Holmes made twelve defenses until Michael Spinks avenged a loss his brother Leon suffered four years previously to become the new champion in 1985.

Spinks beat Holmes again in their return seven months later before a long layoff. In 1988, Spinks was back in action, defending his position against the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.

Mike Tyson had taken away Patterson and Ali’s claims to the age honor when defeating Trevor Berbick in November 1986.

By now, Tyson was firmly known as ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ and entirely in his prime. Spinks, like all before him, proved no match for the ferocious Tyson.

The New Yorker took him apart in just 91 seconds to become an undisputed WBC, IBF, and WBA title-holder.

Just when it seemed Tyson was unbeatable, his career began to unravel.

Twenty months on, and with his personal life overshadowing his boxing persona, James ‘Buster’ Douglas pulled off the biggest shock in boxing history.

Despite being dropped by Tyson in the eighth round, Douglas got up. He stunned the pre-fight favorite for what appeared a fast count of ten or more.

Holding what many saw as a fake crown, Douglas lasted only eight months as the division’s face.

Despite a 38-pound disadvantage, former lineal cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield took just three rounds to extend his rule to a second division.

Holyfield exchanged the crown with Riddick Bowe through two bouts of their trilogy before Michael Moorer caused an upset in 1994.

In his first defense, Moorer came up against a rejuvenated George Foreman enjoying a renaissance later in life.

Twenty years on from his first reign, Foreman became the oldest heavyweight ruler in history when stopping Moorer in ten when behind on all three scorecards.

Avoiding the bigger guns in the division for three years, Foreman was only fourteen months shy of his 50th birthday when he lost to Shannon Briggs in 1997.

Briggs’ win had a hollow feel to it as by now Foreman had been stripped of all his title belts. The success, however, did lead Briggs into giving the number one heavyweight his right of passage.

Lennox Lewis stepped up and took his chance, putting Briggs on the canvas three times before ending the fight in five rounds.

Lewis embarked on a six-year run, which went parallel with becoming undisputed. That’s apart from a brief blip when Hasim Rahman came along.

Six defenses, including two wins over Holyfield, were interrupted by Rahman’s stunning April 2001 knockout in South Africa.

Revenge was sweet for Lewis later that year. The Londoner then retired in 2004 after victories over Tyson and Vitali Klitschko.

Another spell on the sidelines then followed for the crown.

In 2006, Vitali’s brother Wladimir Klitschko unified the division. But it wasn’t until years later that the Ukrainian found himself elevated as the lineal champion.

A decade of destruction and despair in the division took hold as Wladimir could not become undisputed due to his brother holding the WBC strap.

Sumio Yamada

This scenario led to many debates surrounding Klitschko’s lineage, although Tyson Fury came along without disputing those credentials.

Fury ripped away the tag to make it his own via a bamboozling display in Germany. Only depression and addiction, when failing to come to terms with his achievement, could stop his progress.

Other rumbles on whether the Fury treatment was bad continued until 2018.

But three years on from his Klitschko win, Fury has cemented his place at the top of the heavyweight tree.

An enthralling draw against WBC belt-holder Deontay Wilder in 2018 was followed that up with an even better display in 2020.

Wilder was beaten up and stopped by the lineal champion in seven rounds at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Ali vs. Frazier I: 'Fight of the Century' 50 years later

The “Fight of the Century” was much more than a prize fight.

Sports and politics collided in dramatic fashion on March 8, 1971, 50 years ago this Monday. That was the date when Hall of Famers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in the first of their three historic heavyweight battles.

The fight itself was significant. Ali and Frazier were both unbeaten former Olympic gold medalists who had legitimate claims on the heavyweight championship, which had even casual boxing fans clamoring for a showdown to settle the matter.

That was only half of the equation, though. The country was in upheaval at the time, bitterly divided by racial issues and the Vietnam War. And the fighters took the ideological battles into the ring with them, which added fire to an event that already stirred passions.

Muhammad Ali (left) and Joe Frazier gave fans an unforgettable night on March 8, 1971. AP Photo / John Lindsay

Ali had become a polarizing figure after joining the separatist Nation of Islam and then refusing induction into the U.S. Army, which cost him his boxing license, his title and 3½ of his prime years at the same time he become a symbol of both the civil rights and anti-war movements. That made him a martyr in some circles, a villain in others.

The apolitical Frazier became an unwitting symbol of the white establishment, in part because that’s how Ali defined him. Frazier had lobbied for Ali to regain his license and helped him financially during the lean years of his hiatus only to become the target of nasty barbs in the lead-up to the fight.

The worst? Ali referred to him as an “Uncle Tom,” a label that cut Frazier and his family deeply.

As a result, fans backed one or the other fighter as much for what they symbolized as their abilities in the ring, which created a combustible event.

“I’ve never seen an athletic event divide the country like this one,” said journalist Jerry Izenberg, who covered the events leading up to the fight. “… The country was completely split. Part of it was Ali saying that he wasn’t mad at the Vietcong. Everyone just had an opinion on it.

“And it just built to a crescendo by the time of the fight. It was very emotional.”

The 20,000-seat Garden was packed on fight night. An arena executive said later that “we could’ve sold out 10 Madison Square Gardens.” A parade of celebrities was there to be seen, including Frank Sinatra, who was hired as a photographer by Life Magazine. More than 2,000 journalists from around the world applied for 600 credentials. An estimated 300 million people watched on TV.

An obsessed Frazier (left) kept pressure on Ali from beginning to end. AFP via Getty Images

And the fighters didn’t disappointment once the opening bell rang.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) had knocked out Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena since he regained his license as a result of a court decision. Those fights allowed him to shed some rust, but he wasn’t quite as quick and fluid at 29 as he had been in his early years. The older Ali relied as much on guile and toughness as athleticism.

As his trainer Angelo Dundee once told me with great pain, “Muhammad lost his best years as a boxer when he was away.”

Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) had picked up the heavyweight championship after Ali was stripped. And he was on a roll, overwhelming one elite opponent after another with his bobbing, weaving aggression and a left hook from hell.

The key to the fight was Frazier’s relentless pursuit of his prey and Ali’s inability to slow him down, at least long term. Ali, fighting more flatfooted than he had in the past, landed quick, accurate shots to dissuade Smokin’ Joe temporarily but he was stoppable this night.

By the late rounds Frazier had edged ahead of Ali and saved his best for last.

Ali was pushing the action in a bid to rally in the 15th and final round when Frazier connected on the greatest punch of his career, a perfect left hook that knocked Ali flat on his back. He got to his feet immediately and survived to hear the final bell but his fate seemed sealed.

All three judges (including referee Arthur Mercante) scored it for Frazier, 11-4-1, 9-6 and 8-6-1, which settled the debate – at least for the moment – over who was the best heavyweight in the world.

“I always knew who the champion was,” Frazier said.

Frazier (left) put Ali down with this left hook in the 15th and final round. AP Photo

Ali handled his first setback with dignity. And he made a promise: “Don’t worry, we’ll be back. We ain’t through yet.”

That turned out to be an understatement. Some of his greatest moments lay ahead, including his stunning knockout of George Foreman – who had taken the title from Frazier – to regain the heavyweight championship in 1974. He also would defeat Frazier in the second and third installments of their trilogy, including the unforgettable Thrilla in Manila, one of the great prize fights in history.

And, perhaps unthinkable in 1971, Ali would evolve into one of the most beloved sports figures in history. He would distance himself from radical organizations and his stand against the unpopular war eventually was embraced.

The only one who wouldn’t forgive Ali was Frazier, at least not completely. The two became cordial over time but he never forgot the manner in which Ali treated him before all three of their fights.

I interviewed Frazier about 30 years after the “Fight of the Century.” The moment that stood out most was his response when asked about Ali’s deteriorating health, a result of Parkinson’s disease and the punches he had taken in his career.

“How do you think he got that way? It was me,” Frazier said, as if he took pride in the damage he might’ve caused.

They were rivals until the end.

Watch the video: Οι μαθητές του Πολύγυρου μαθαίνουν Αρση Βαρών (May 2022).