Nothing compares to Ali-Frazier from Madison Square Garden

July 19, 2016 3:00 AM


There’s a Fight of the Century every couple years. UFC 200 was just billed as the greatest fight card in history, quite a stretch.

Super Bowls are life and death for people who live their lives through athletes and teams who don’t give a damn for them in return. Parents resort to blows over little Johnnies Pee Wee football and Little League baseball games, attacking other parents, coaches and even opposing players.

But nothing, nothing is as big a deal as the first Frazier/Ali fight on Sept. 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden. Both were Olympic Champions, and undefeated as pros. Their boxing skills however took a backseat to the baggage, drama, hopes and expectations piled on their shoulders by two distinct factions around the globe.

Cassius Clay became a Black Muslim and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He said Cassius Clay was his slave name. This was in the height of the Vietnam War. He refused the draft, claiming his new faith prevented him from fighting while embracing Black Muslim leaders Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X.

Ali was charismatic and likable and carried the mantle of Rev. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and the Anti-War movement crowd into the ring with him.

On Joe Frazier’s shoulders were the prayers of 500,000 mothers around the World who prayed for Joe to win for their sons, 50,000 of whom didn’t make it home.

Frazier started out as a slight favorite, around 7-5. It went to around 2-1 and then the odds narrowed on the day of the fight. Inside the 20-foot ring Ali could only back up so far while Frazier didn’t have a reverse gear, only forward. The fight was an epic battle outdoing all the hype. Frazier knocked Ali down in the 11th but referee Arthur Mercante didn’t treat it as such. But in the 15th there was no doubt as Frazier’s powerful left hook floored Muhammad.

Frazier won on all three score cards: 9-6, 9-6 and 11-4. They left it all in the ring. Ali had a puffy, grotesque face while Frazier was in the hospital for a couple days, never being the same fighter again.

They would fight two more times with Ali winning both. No athletic event since has ever meant so much to so many. It was much more than just a fight to us then.

They’re gone now. Both carried the weight of too many punches as they grew older. Ali went out a beloved hero while Frazier didn’t have that charisma.

I miss both of them, just knowing they were with us was special.