Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali, March 8, 1971
Superfight 1 was indeed the Fight of the Century using the three most important qualifiers. 1) It was the most significant fight of the century in terms of it's historical impact with two undefeated heavyweights champions meeting for the first time, both all-time great fighters. 2) The quality of opposition is tops for all of the candidates for each decade this century. 3) It was an exciting ebb and flow fight with both men inflincting serious damage. Many believe neither fighter was quite the same after this great fight.
Ali got off to a quick start winning rounds with crisp left jabs and short quick flurries. Frazier kept after him figuring that his pressure would "eventually break" Ali. Joe demonstrated his worth as an inside fighter, burying his head in Ali's chest, keeping his hands free and working constantly to the body (something Tyson never learned to do). Ali's jabs and sharp right hands swelled Frazier's face into a grotesque gargoyle like mask. Ali's right jaw was a huge lump from Joe's hammering left hooks. The fight was still fairly close going into the 15th round. Ali threw a lazy right and Frazier countered with a thunderous left hook that sent Ali crashing to the canvas. There was Ali, the self-procalimed "Greatest" flat on his back. Ali proved the worth of his chin, he was up quickly at four. Both men were tired at the end. Referee Art Mercante scored the fight 8-6-1, Judge Art Aldala 9-6 Frazier, while Judge Bill Recht saw it 11-4 Frazier. Smokin' Joe Frazier had won the "Fight of the Century."
Comments from the top sportswriters of the day told the story:
Dave Anderson, New York Times: "In a classic 15 round battle, Joe Frazier broke the wings of the butterfly and smashed the stinger of the bee last night, winning a 15-round unanimous decision over Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden."
Bob Waters, Newsday: "Ali was the beaten fighter no matter how you count it. It was Ali's eyes that went glassy and his legs that wobbled in the 11th round when a Frazier hook caught him flush on the jaw. And Ali went into the dance that puppets do when the guy holding the string is drunk."
Norman Mailer, Life Magazine: "Frazier reached out to snatch the magic punch from the air and found it...and thunked Ali a hell and hit Ali a heaven of a shot....Ali on the floor. Great Ali on the floor was out there flat."
Arthur Daley, New York Times: "The wildly exciting exhibition of primitive savagery that Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali put on over 15 exhausting rounds was an epic that fit the price tag."
Frazier had his moment of greatness in the 20th Century version of the "Fight of the Century."
Ali would go on to beat Frazier twice in return matches, the second time in the equally thrilling "Thrilla in Manilla" in 1975.