It was the precursor to what would become commonplace many years later- a massive fight with not only nationwide, but worldwide, appeal between the two most prominent Heavyweights in boxing . And, it was staged at the world’s most famous arena in New York City at Madison Square Garden, as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met for the first of three battles on March 8th, 1971.
It was a fight that had been years in the making after Ali had been stripped of the Title he had won from Sonny Liston in 1964 by the United States government, and also, took away his license to fight in anywhere in the U.S. after his failure to report for active military duty and the Vietnam War.
Meanwhile, Frazier had scooped up the Heavyweight Championship and the menacing Philadelphia fighter with the most feared left hook in boxing was waiting for his mega-payday.
The promoters understood how big this would be. And that’s why Ali and Frazier were both granted an unheard-of guarantee of $2.5 million or roughly $10 million dollars each in present day economy revenue.
It lived up to the hype and you can re-live the great moments here:
In the end it was Frazier’s wicked left hook which dropped Ali to the canvas in a heap early in the 15th round. Ali got up, but was beaten on a 15-round unanimous decision by Smokin’ Joe.
With all of the build-up, the celebrities of all types and sorts at ringside, and thousands upon thousands of fans watching closed-circuit via movie theaters nationwide and around the world, Frazier handed Ali his first professional defeat.
Frazier improved to 27-0, Ali dropped to 31-1.
Most people don’t remember that Ali and Frazier fought a second time at the Garden in January of 1974 in a 12-round non-title fight won by Ali on decision.
What everyone remembers is their thrilling third fight — the Thrilla in Manilla — that took place in the stifling heat of an indoor Auditorium in Manila, Philippines in October 1975. That night Ali and Frazier pounded each other for 14 rounds before legendary trainer Eddie Futch refused to let Frazier come out for the final round and he retired on his stool.
Ali was so battered dehydrated and exhausted that he virtually passed out in the ring even after having his hand raised, as the winner.
Ali’s famous corner man “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco would repeatedly say in interviews later that he was horrified watching as the late rounds went on. Pacheco could tell both men were battling, but both were possibly near death with the conditions in the arena and the pounding that each were taking.
It’s one of the greatest rivalries in the history of 20th century Sports. And, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier staged it 48 years ago Friday night