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Best of a Century:

Fight of the Decade: 1970-1979

BY: Monte Cox

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It was billed simply as "The Fight".  It needed no further explanation, no further hype to promote itself. It was the fight. The fight everyone wanted to see. It was the first time two undefeated heavweight champions, both with legitimate claims to the title, ever met in the ring. Two great champions would enter the squared arena, only one would leave as undisputed champion.

What later became known as Superfight 1 was more than just a boxing match. It was the voice of a younger generation, the voice of the war against vietnam, the voice for civil rights, and "power to the people" represented by Ali, against the menacing voice of the establishment unwittingly represented by Frazier. Like it or not, it was the role that Frazier was handed by Ali and the press.

The anticipation was like a fog hanging over the crowd of  21,455 at New York's Madison Square Garden. It was the first fight where there was over $ 1 million dollars in guaranteed purses for the principles. The day of big money in boxing began here. At ringside was a bevy of stars and the top writers of the day including Norman Mailer, Budd Schulberg, William Sayoran, and Frank Sinatra serving as ringside photographer for Life magazine. So great was the tension before the fight that a fan died of a heart attack waiting for the fight to start.

Adding to the attractiveness of the matchup was the classic boxer versus puncher match-up. Ali the smooth, gliding, dancing master with the superb jab, and superfast combinations. Frazier, the bobbing, weaving, mauling slugger with the fierce body attack and one of the best left hooks in heavyweight history. Even though Ali did not dance as expected both men played their roles well. Ali landed the higher volume of punches, Frazier the harder blows. It was a great fight and much closer than many remember as the film demonstrates.

As the drama unfolded the roar of the crowd erupted like that of a heavy metal concert. Ali won the early rounds with his jab and quick flurries. Frazier was like the energizer bunny he just kept going and going, right at Ali's body. Frazier followed the maxim of his chief strategist Eddie Futch, "kill the body, and the head will die." This was the fight where Joe Frazier proved he was an all-time great heavyweight. He fought three minutes of every round, forcing Ali to fight, and continuing to work his body in the clinches.

By the mid-late rounds Frazier was "Smokin". Ali continued to fight in spurts, but his clowning in some close rounds inevitably cost him the fight. In the near fatal eleventh round, Frazier hit Ali with a terrific left hook the had Ali in serious trouble. Ali backed up on unsteady legs, Frazier hammered home another powerful left hook. This was also the first time we saw what a great chin Ali really had. He earned the respect of his detractors this night, just as Holyfield did in his defeat in the first Riddick Bowe fight.

By the 15th round both fighters were visibly slowed. Frazier's face a swollen, puffy grotuesque mask. Ali the right side of his jaw swollen from Fraziers strong left hooks. Ali was boxing well, then it happened. BOOM!! A crunching left hook thrown with all the power in Joe Fraziers body dropped Ali flat on is back. The punch was thrown with sufficient force to stop a charging bull. Ali was down! The cameras flashed a 1,000 times. Joe Frazier had just knocked out Muhammad Ali! Only he didn't. Ali was up at 4. Incredible that anyone could survive such a blow. Instead of knocking Ali out, Joe Frazier had helped create a legend. Frazier was the winner by close, but deserved unanimous decision. The establishment had one round one. The legend had just begun.

Honorable Mentions:

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 3.   Sept. 30, 1975   "It'll be a chilla, and a killa, and a thrilla, when I get the gorilla in manilla."  Equalling and perhaps surpassing the first fight in the action it produced in terms of competiveness. Cannot equal first in historical significance. Ali won by 14th round Tko when Frazier could not answer bell for last round due to vision problems.

George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali   Oct. 30, 1974    If Ali earned the respect of the critics in the first Frazier fight, he converted them with this one. Most observers picked the frightening Foreman to make short work of Ali. Even his corner behaved as if he was being sentenced to his death on the walk to the ring. Ali shocked the world once again ko'ing big George in the 8th and sending him into a 10 year retirement. Little did we know George would regain the heavyweight title 20 years later. Sounds crazy doesn't it. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Mathew Franklin (Saad Muhammad) vs. Marvin Johnson     April 22, 1979   Al Bernstein called it "one of the most incredible brawls any lightheavyweights ever staged."  A bruising battle which found both men seriously hurt in the very first round. Johnson pressed the action in the early rounds. By the fifth round both men were bleeding from cuts. In the 7th Saad opened up with 15 unanswered punches that had Johnson wobbly at the bell. In the 8th Johnson opened a horrible gash over Saad's left eye. In desperation Saad Muhammad opened up with a flurry that dropped Johnson for a 9 count. Still wobbly the ref halted the bout declaring Muhammad the winner.

Ruben Olivares vs. Alexis Arguello.    November 23, 1974    The 27 year old champion Ruben Olivares was a popular Mexican puncher who gave everything he had in the ring. Arguello the young 22 year old challenger from Nicaragua, was calculating boxer-puncher. It was Fire vs. Ice. Olivares was the aggressor and forced the action early. Arguello fought patiently behind his jab, taking Olivares best punches. Olivares was leading on the cards after 12 rounds. Then a deadly hook by arguello caught Olivares right on the chin. A second knockdown with a crunching hook took Olivares out. A new star was born. Arguello would go on to become a triple crown champion.