Remembering The Fight of the Century

By Boxing Bob Newman

Never one to let a momentous occasion go uncelebrated, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman spoke with® about the famous March 8, 1971 “Fight of the Century,” between reigning heavyweight champion Joe Frazier and exiled champion Muhammad Ali. Sulaiman dished on the personalities of both Ali and Frazier and how those personas contributed to the fight hype, how the social and political climate of the time also impacted the fight and how the fight itself would shape both boxing and the world itself in its aftermath.

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  • If the current streaming and PPV options had been available for this fight it would have generated billions in revenue. Muhammad Ali was the most well known person on the planet and pretty much every man on the planet and just about every woman was aware of this fight.

  • This fight, and the third of their series in the Philippines, were absolutely great fights. Was just in awe at the stamina and resilience showed by both guys in these two fights. Ali, in addition to his skills, was about as tough as it gets….whether it was dealing with the extreme pressure and power that Frazier put on him, laying on the ropes and absorbing everything Foreman threw at him, or fighting through most of the fight against Norton with a broken jaw….the dude could withstand whatever was thrown at him, and a lot of that came after his best days. He definitely backed up the “Greatest” claim as far as I’m concerned…

    • That desire and will to win are really the thing that makes the greatest fighters. I think Foreman’s greatest fight was his win over Lyle. Foreman was basically knocked out twice and yet came back to stop an exhausted Lyle, who was essentially a carbon copy of George. It might not have been his greatest display of skill, but it clearly showed what made him a great fighter.

  • Nah! They didn’t do what Castillo-Corrales did in their first fight.

  • Greatest sporting event ever. I was 11 years old at the time. It was like a holiday. People got off work early, it was the opening of the local and national news cast. They even talked about the fight in church the day before.That fight gripped nations.

  • I remember the build-up for this fight. As a boy, I was mesmerized by the antics of Ali, and was shocked when my mom told me he was Cassius Clay. I was 4 years old when I noticed Clay because of his charismatic antics on TV leading up to his Liston fight. He made an impression on me because of his animated antics, which I was delighted to see. I really idolized Ali, really wanted him to win, and when he lost, I was devastated. I followed his career very closely thereafter, rooting for him to win. I was devastated by the Norton loss. 9 years after this first Frazier fight, I met Ali in Las Vegas as he left the ring following the Curtis Parker- Dwight Davison fight. He was there to promote his fight to be held a few months later with Larry Holmes. His entourage had cleared a path for him to walk from the ring through the crowd and I stood among others to his left as he made his way through the crowd. As if I was the only person standing there, he came directly to me, grabbed my extended right hand with both his hands and shook my hand.

    It was a magical moment for me. I was his biggest fan, I thought. It was also a revealing moment. For when Ali grabbed my hand, although his hands were bigger and thicker than mine, his was a very weak handshake. I looked into his eyes as he shook my hand, and I saw emptiness. Gone was the charisma, the spark, the magic. It was at that moment that I realized that my idol Ali was not 100%. He was not himself and seemed to be suffering from some sort of cognitive decline. Almost two hours earlier, I had met Larry Holmes in the parking lot as he walked to the Pavilion where the fight was held. Holmes looked fit, vibrant, cocky, confident. We too shook hands and I said to him, “don’t hurt Ali too bad”, to which he responded, “his ass is grass”. Sounds like Holmes doesn’t it? He was walking with a beautiful black woman. I knew that Ali was going to lose that fight with Holmes, and was disappointed that he would pretend to be 100% when he wasn’t.

    As I got older, I developed more of a respect for Joe Frazier. Joe was a great fighter, a good man. He was a proud family man, a religious man, and a singer. Joe wasn’t charismatic like Ali. He was respectful, full of substance, depth, and dignity. Ali called him ignorant, ugly, uncle tom, dumb. This bothered me more the older I got and thought about it, since Ali branded himself a champion of his people, black people. Yet, he ridiculed Frazier, called him names in front of his family. He ridiculed and tried to diminish another black man, a fellow fighter, just to build the hype. Racists and bigots enjoyed this. They enjoyed seeing one black man tear another down verbally. I didn’t like it. As I got older, it was the biggest problem I had with Ali. Frazier endured, overcame, and beat Ali, knocking him down and nearly out with a left hook from hell in the final round. Round 11 I will never forget, since that was the only time that anyone would ever see Ali seriously hurt, stumbling on queer street. Frazier took Ali to hell and beat him. Frazier was the better man that day, and he forever earned my respect and admiration. Joe was a great man. So was Ali.

    Ali would go on to beat Frazier twice after this fight, but this was Frazier at his peak. Ali never beat a peak Joe Frazier though and Joe Frazier never faced a peak Ali.

    • Great posting. Thank you sir. I enjoy reading about other’s experiences during their lives.

      I worked with a young gal in the 1990’s inside a hospital and she transferred from Easton, Pa. She never watched boxing a day in her life and could care less. However, she did tell me Larry Holmes lived in Easton and was known to have a chip on his shoulder in dealing with white people. Apparently, she said Holmes owned a bar in Easton and did not like the presence of white people in the establishment. I do not know if she was pulling my leg or not. Times were different in the early 1990’s than they are now.

      On a side note, I was really worried when Holmes got into the ring with Tyson! Good grief! Tyson ate him for breakfast with those power shots!

    • I enjoy reading what you wrote. I also was impressed with the antics of the one named Cassius Clay by then. It was something completely new in boxing. We wanted him to win vs. Liston, but we were afraid to see him destroyed like the way Patterson ended. Not like in USA that almost every home had a TV, in our land we gathered around a radio, and after very tense moments of narration, people jumped jubilant when they announced the end of the fight. It was a beautiful night. Then the fight of the century vs. Frazier, yes we had a tv, and I didn’t enjoy the fight because I wanted Ali to be victorious, dominant, but it was the opposite in almost every round. Memorable fight that lived up to all expectations though

    • …and that ladies and gentlemen, is how you write an engaging comment worthy of reading. Thanks!

  • The third Ali-Frazier fight was the best. The first received the most hype.

  • first closed circuit fight. like ppv but at theaters and halls. my mom was semi crushed by audience in el paso line rush to get in to see Frasier shut up that #igger…my mom hated him then…learned to love him…

  • What does MS,son of shorty,remember of this great fite.Everyone in boxing is interested in his opinion.How small was MS in 1971?

  • The world’s most corrupt boxing organization. Stripped Leon Spinks of the title for giving Ali an immediate rematch and stripped Bobby Chacon in 1983 for not fighting Hector Camacho because the purse bid was much lower than other challengers.

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