50 ago the biggest, most memorable, and important sporting event of my life took place.
March 8, 1971, was the date of the Heavyweight Championship battle between champion Joe Frazier and challenger Muhammad Ali. The two combatants were a combined 56-0 with 47 knockouts. Never before or since has a sporting event been as anticipated as Ali-Frazier.
Boxing was much more popular than it is 50 years later. But this battle was as much, if not more, about the temperature of the country.
The nation was split on our military involvement in Vietnam. And these two gladiators were the perfect symbol for those in support of the war or those opposed to It.
Frazier wanted to serve in the Army but was not allowed to because he was married with children.
Meanwhile, Ali refused to be inducted into the military citing his religious beliefs. He was immediately stripped of his Heavyweight Championship and convicted of draft evasion, losing three years of his boxing prime.
Ali-Frazier was as simple as the older, white establishment rooting for Frazier, while anti-war, counterculture America pulling for Ali. It was that polarizing.
The fight was held at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The iconic Frank Sinatra served as a photographer for Life Magazine. Legendary actor Burt Lancaster was the color commentator for the closed-circuit broadcast.
The fight lived up to and surpassed its hype. The 15 round war had it all, including the first time Ali was ever knocked to the canvas. Frazier won a unanimous decision to retain his belt.
Ali won the two rematches, including the rubber match in 1975 known as “The Thrilla In Manila”. A fight that superseded the original in terms of pure boxing drama.
It is not often in sports, let alone life, that an event lives up to the hype. The “Fight Of The Century” certainly did and has aged well as it celebrates its golden anniversary.
John Sapochetti is co-host of three podcasts heard on Full Press Radio:
-The Pick & Roll NBA Podcast With Jet & Sap
-The Sap & Kat Show
-The Get Off My Lawn Podcast With Keegan & Sap
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