Remarkable Moments In A Remarkable Fight
by Bobby Franklin
This coming March 8th will mark the 46th anniversary of the first Ali vs Frazier fight, The Fight of the Century. It will also be the first time the date will arrive with both men now having passed on. Rewatching this great fight it is hard to believe neither Joe or Muhammad is still with us. That night in Madison Square Garden they both appeared to be immortal. It was as if two ancient gods had stepped down from their mountains to do battle for control of the universe.
I am surprised how their third encounter has taken most of the spotlight over the years. While that was a great brawl, both men had lost much, if not most, of their great skills. The first bout was the only time in history when two undefeated men with legitimate claims to the Heavyweight Championship met to settle things. The fight lived up to all of the hype and even more. I truly believe the fight would be given more notice if Ali had won, and that is the reason the third fight is so often shown. The Ali publicity machine never stopped working while Joe Frazier slipped into a quiet retirement. It is too bad because their first meeting was one of the greatest fights and greatest sporting events of all time. It should be shown every March 8th. Fortunately, it can be seen on Youtube, and boxing fans should take an hour on the anniversary to watch it.
I have written about the fight on a number of occasions. Each time I watch it I see something new. Each time I watch it I am still in awe of what a battle of wills it was. Each time I watch it I am in disbelief of how these two men were able to hold up for fifteen rounds at such a torrid pace.
Today, as I reflect back on that night, I want to focus in on a couple of moments from that war. These occurred in the 11th and 15th rounds, and I would like to share my thoughts with my readers.
When the bell rang for the 11th round both fighters appeared to be slowing down. Ali was content to stay on the ropes and Joe was not landing with the same power he had been displaying over the pervious 10 rounds. The fight seemed to be losing its intensity and that was no surprise seeing the pace these two had set. Well, that was about to change.
With about a minute left in the round, Ali was on the ropes near a corner. Frazier had landed a couple of left hooks on Ali’s chin, but not with full force. Then it happened, Joe let a hook rip that caught Ali and buckled his legs. Muhammad attempted to get out of the corner and stepped to his right with Frazier in pursuit. This is a key moment in the fight and if things had gone slightly different would have most likely been the end of the bout.
As Ali moved along the ropes trying to escape from Joe, Frazier landed a powerful left hook to Muhammad’s jaw. Ali fell backwards and his arms swung back and away from his body. He was wide open to be hit at will. He was hurt and off balance. So why didn’t Joe follow up?
Watch this moment in the fight and you will see why. There are a couple of different views of it, but all clearly show what happened. After Joe landed that brutal shot and Ali’s legs buckled it appeared he was going down, and indeed he would have. Joe seeing him start to go down stepped away to head for a neutral corner. What then happened is that as Ali was on the way down his backside caught one of the ropes and held him up. Joe looked over as he was walking away and immediately rushed back to Ali. By this time Muhammad had righted himself and had his hands back in position. If Joe had not believed Ali was going down he could have landed at will and very likely ended the contest. In boxing, seconds and fractions of seconds make a difference, and it certainly did in this case. Frazier pummeled Ali for the remainder of the round. He staggered him a couple of more times, but he could not finish him off.
The 15th round produced another amazing moment in a night of great moments. In what is perhaps the most famous knockdown in boxing history, Joe dropped Muhammad with a tremendous left hook early in the round. Ali went down flat on his back. It looked as if the fight was over. However, in what seemed like a miracle, Ali not only got up but rose almost immediately. How was he able to regain his feet after absorbing such a shot? Both men were beyond exhausted. Ali was caught flush on the jaw by one of the hardest left hooks ever thrown. Or was he?
Ali used to brag that he had a built in radar that could detect punches that were about to hit him so he could avoid them at the last second. His radar was working here. He was not able to avoid the punch, but if you watch closely as the blow connects you will see Ali moving his head as the punch makes contact with him. Basically, he, to some degree, rolled with the punch. It was still a brutal shot, but it would have been much worse had he not moved the way he did. It is amazing his mind and body were still able to respond in that manner seeing how grueling the fight had been.
I remember seeing Arthur Mercante, the referee for the fight, interviewed once. When questioned about the 15th round he said he felt the men were so tired that he feared he might push one or the other over while breaking a clinch. It just shows how much Ali and Frazier drove themselves in this battle of wills.
I once had a chance to talk with Arthur Mercante. I asked him how much he got paid for officiating that night. He told me he received $500.00. When I said it didn’t seem like much he turned to me and with a big smile said, “I would have done it for nothing.”
This March 8th take an hour to watch this fight. Do it to honor two great athletes. Do it to remember what boxing once was.