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Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier: Remembering When The World Stopped To Stare

Posted on 03/08/2021

By: Hans Themistode

The throne always belonged to Muhammad Ali. He had just been unjustly and temporarily removed from it.

In the 1960s there wasn’t a soul alive that didn’t believe Ali was the best fighter in the world. Unless you were Joe Frazier of course.

With Ali forced to spend three years and a half of his prime sequestered on the sidelines due to his refusal to be inducted in the Vietnam war, Ali was given no choice but to spend the next several years away from the sport while he was at the top of his game.

When he returned, his name was scribbled out and instead, replaced with Joe Frazier.

While they would go on to fight on three occasions, the very first time they graced the ring against one another was unlike any other fight in history.

In essence, the world stopped.

Looking back now 50 years later, even some of the greatest to ever step foot inside the ring sat back and reminisced about what they witnessed.

“I was amazed watching that fight,” said former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes during a recent joint conference call. “It was amazing that Joe Frazier took the punches that he took and kept fighting.”

For Holmes, 21 years of age at the time, he simply couldn’t believe what he was watching. While he would eventually go on to become a champion in his own right, all he could do was fixate on was the piece of history that was taking place right before him.

The scenery for their legendary fight which took place in Madison Square Garden was unforgettable and captivating. In fact, former multiple-time heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney remembers vividly how it all looked.

(Photo by Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The sound of the ring floor, the aura that filled the air and of course, the stars that flooded the arena. As Cooney thinks back to that time, he remembers rubbing elbows with them all. Or, at least, he thinks he did.

“I could swear on everything holy that I was in the Garden watching Clyde Frazier, Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio,” said Cooney. “I could’ve sworn I was there watching the whole thing. It was so magical between those two guys.”

At 14 years of age however, that was merely impossible. Yet, the feel of their big fight made Cooney believe he was there cheering on Frazier as he dropped Ali with a left hook in the 15th round. But as he continued to scream and point to the ring as his man continued to win, he recalls actually doing that from his bedroom, not the actual fight.

“You gotta love Muhammad Ali but I was always an underdog guy. When he dropped Ali it was like wow, he really won the fight.”

Big fights have become far too common in the sport of boxing. Fans and boxers alike have called every fight that flashes across their television screens a big one. Yet, with the paltry numbers that routinely check-in, those assumptions are made to be wrong time and time again.

In the case of Ali vs Frazier, it wasn’t just a big fight, it was the fight of all fights.

“This was such a big fight that the people in Vietnam and the United States stopped the war to watch the fight,” said an excited Cooney.

Although the joy and exuberance were plain to see in the eyes of everyone involved, promoter Bob Arum sits back in his chair and begins his own detailed thought process of what went down on that unforgettable night.

It wasn’t just that both Ali and Frazier gave the world an incredible fight but more than anything, they proved something that even Arum never knew.

“Going into that fight, I believed Ali was invincible,” said Arum. “I didn’t think Frazier was in the same class as Ali. We used to take bets on how few shots Ali would take when he fought but the Ali that came back after three and a half years off was a different Ali. Before then, we didn’t know if he could take a shot because he never got hit, but what we found out later is that he could take an unbelievable shot. It was incredible.”

There aren’t many moments that are permanently ingrained in the minds of everyone. But on March 8th, 1971, the world stopped spinning in order to witness what many believe is the greatest fight in boxing history.

While it was important to find out who would win, in hindsight, it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Other great historical contests have taken place since then but at some point, they have lost their luster. In the case of Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier however, it will forever be the most compelling and unforgettable fight of all-time.

“It will never be diminished,” said Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins. “Never.”

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