The story

How the Ali-Frazier 'Fight of the Century' Became a Proxy Battle for a Divided Nation

How the Ali-Frazier 'Fight of the Century' Became a Proxy Battle for a Divided Nation

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When Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali faced each other in the ring on March 8, 1971, the world stopped to watch. Dubbed “the Fight of the Century,” the clash sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City, grossed $45 million in tickets at closed-circuit venues in the United States alone, and was viewed by over 300 million people worldwide. Even when the result was already known, half the population of the United Kingdom watched a replay on the BBC.

And with good reason. It was a battle for the heavyweight championship of the world—a crown that has been dubbed the greatest prize in sport—between two undefeated fighters and former Olympic gold medalists. But the Fight of the Century was more than just a sanctioned combat between two men: it became a proxy battle for a divided nation.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, Ali won gold at the Rome Olympics in 1960 and in February 1964 became world heavyweight champion by defeating Sonny Liston. The day after the Liston victory, Ali rejected the name Cassius Clay given to his family by a slave owner and revealed he had joined the Nation of Islam.

Ali Refuses Draft for Vietnam

Ali’s reign unfolded against the backdrop of a nation tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Vietnam, and the champ soon found himself at the nexus of them all when, having initially been rejected for military service, he was ordered to report before the draft board. Confronted by reporters when the news broke, Ali questioned why he should fly thousands of miles to kill people on behalf of a country that treated him and his fellow African Americans as second class citizens.

“If I thought that my going to Vietnam would help any of the millions of Black people in this country,” he declared, “you wouldn’t have to send for me, I’d go. But it won’t. Going to war with these people won’t help my people one bit. I’d rather go to jail.” For good measure, he proclaimed that, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

On April 28, 1967, Ali made his refusal to join the armed forces formal, claiming conscientious objector status. That same day, the New York State Athletic Commission withdrew his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Boxing commissions across the country refused to allow him to fight in their jurisdictions, effectively banishing Ali from the sport.

Not until late 1970, after the tide of public opinion had turned strongly against the war, did he fight again, granted a license by a specially formed commission in the city of Atlanta over the vociferous objections of Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, who declared fight night a “day of mourning.” Two courts had upheld the government’s refusal to accept Ali’s conscientious objector status, and now the case was making its way to the Supreme Court, where it was slated to be held in June 1971. Fully expecting the decision to go against him, Ali knew he had little time to lose, and so after one more fight, he trained his sights on the man who had ascended to his throne while he had been in exile.

READ MORE: Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America

Ali Dismisses Frazier as 'Uncle Tom'

The son of sharecroppers, Joe Frazier left home at age 15 to learn to box, becoming Olympic champion in 1964. He was in many ways Ali’s antithesis: whereas Ali was a loquacious showman, Frazier, in the words of broadcaster Tim Ryan—who called his fight with Ali for Armed Forces Radio—“was a workaday guy, who lived the way he fought: just get in there, throw a hundred punches, be strong, and mind your own business.”

He had not made any political statements or tied his colors to any mast; he had even helped Ali financially during his rival’s banishment and appealed to President Richard Nixon to grant him clemency. But, purely by dint of his not being Ali, he became the unwitting hero of the establishment. Wrote Jerry Izenberg in Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing, “many whites who disliked Ali on racial grounds adopted Frazier as their designated Black representative.”

Ali piled on, deriding Frazier as too stupid and too ugly to be heavyweight champion and even, in the ultimate insult, dismissing him as an “Uncle Tom.” Tensions were high: Izenberg, who had written several columns for the Newark Star-Ledger supporting Ali’s stance on the war, had his car windshield smashed in. It was, he noted, hippies against hard hats, the young generation against their elders, all of them using Ali and Frazier as cyphers and forgetting that, “as dramatic as the story was, this was still just a prize fight between two very good heavyweight boxers.”

Fight Lives Up to the Hype

When fight night arrived, it was as much of an event as anticipated.

“Everybody who was anybody was there,” remembered boxing historian Bert Sugar. “They were scalping hundred-dollar tickets for a thousand dollars outside … There were people coming in with white ermine coats and matching hats, and that was just the guys. Limousines lined up at Madison Square Garden for what seemed like 50 blocks.”

“It wasn’t a normal fight crowd, even for a heavyweight title fight,” recalls Ryan, author of On Someone Else’s Nickel: A Life in Television, Sports, and Travel. “Here, you had people like the Cardinal of New York. There, you had the superstars like Diana Ross. Frank Sinatra was a ringside photographer for Life Magazine. Burt Lancaster was the color commentator on the TV pay-per-view.”

The fight itself lived up to the hype. Ali took control early, but by the sixth he began to tire, weakened by the long layoff and by Frazier’s punches. But even in the ring he continued the verbal taunting he had deployed during the build-up.

“Fool, don’t you know that God’s ordained I be champion?” he said during the 15th and final round.

“Well, God’s gonna get his ass whupped tonight,” retorted Frazier, who dipped and launched a left hook that exploded on Ali’s jaw, sending him to the canvas. Ali hauled himself up, but the knockdown ensured he would lose the round and the fight.

For those who had not only rooted for him but seen a part of them in him, who had raised him up as a symbol of resistance, it was a devastating blow.

“It was awful,” sports journalist and broadcaster Bryant Gumbel said in Thomas Hauser’s book Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. “I felt as though everything I stood for had been beaten down and trampled.”

In the end, for all the import and symbolism that had been assigned to it, the Fight of the Century was, as Izenberg had written, just a fight. The Vietnam War continued for another four years; 50 years later, America remains riven by racial injustice, and sport figures continue to use their platforms to call for social and political change

Foreman and Ali Feud Lingers

Ali had lost the fight with Frazier. But three months later, he won his battle against the U.S. government when the Supreme Court ruled that it had not provided good reason to deny Ali conscientious objector status. He was free to continue his boxing career, which he did to great effect, reclaiming the heavyweight crown from George Foreman—who had taken it from Frazier—in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire in 1974.

The year after, he and Frazier met again, in sweltering conditions in Manila; the two men rained blows on each other for 14 brutal rounds until Frazier’s corner intervened to save their man, his eyes almost completely closed, from further punishment.

Both continued to box, but neither was remotely the same again. Ali and Frazier in many ways made each other; ultimately, they destroyed each other. Frazier never forgave Ali for his taunts and insults; asked what he thought of Ali lighting the cauldron at the 1996 Olympic Games, he hissed, “They should have pushed him in.”

In the eyes of others, their battles may have been representative of a broader conflict; for Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, they were intensely personal.

“They did not fight for the heavyweight title of the world,” noted Izenberg after the Manila fight. “The way they fought, they were fighting for the championship of each other. They could have fought on a melting ice floe in a phone booth. That wasn’t settled tonight, and even if they fight again, it will never be settled.”

There’s Something Else We Should Remember About Muhammad Ali’s Comeback Bout with Joe Frazier

Leonard Steinhorn is a professor of communication and affiliate professor of history at American University, a CBS News political analyst, author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, and co-author of By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and The Reality of Race.

Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

Time stopped for all of us on March 8, 1971, or so it seemed. It was the Fight of the Century, Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier, Ali seeking redemption after three-and-a-half years of professional exile for resisting the Vietnam War draft.

The actual fight may have taken place inside a boxing ring, but it was about so much more than who would be crowned heavyweight champion. With Ali a symbol of black pride and anti-war sentiment, the ring was a proxy for the culture and political wars of the Sixties that would consume this country for decades to come. So this was not merely pugilism – it was a national event, two titans whose every punch gave voice to which side you were on.

Yet as powerful a moment as it was, few of us could watch it live. The promoters limited the broadcast to theaters that screened what was then called "closed circuit television." Not even radio had the rights to carry it blow-by-blow.

Most of us – who couldn't afford or obtain the live broadcast tickets – had to settle for radio recaps of each round. We waited patiently and nervously with trusty transistors in hand for the next summary, tension building even without a live account. Yet millions were transfixed – millions waited for an announcer to read wire copy of the fight – because it was an event that glued us together in the here and now no matter which fighter we supported.

It's hard to imagine time stopping for anything like that today. It's hard to imagine almost every household in America – from small towns to city blocks to suburban neighborhoods – focused on a single event, tuning in to a single broadcast, one aired only on radio that wasn't even live. Yet that was America in 1971.

There's no question our expanded media ecosystem today has given us access to information and entertainment unimaginable 45 years ago when the Ali-Frazier fight consumed our attention. And that's good assuming we use this access to make ourselves better informed and educated.

But as we contemplate what we have lost with the passing of Muhammad Ali, perhaps it's important also to ask what we have lost when our culture and media have become so fragmented that time no longer stops collectively for any event or any news or anyone who captures our national imagination, assuming we have one anymore.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the years of Ali's ascendancy, the three network evening news shows captured an 80 percent share of the audience, meaning that of all the households watching television during that time slot, almost all were tuned into the news. Nowadays it's barely 30 percent.

In the early 1950s so many Americans gathered to watch I Love Lucy that communities reported a drop in water usage during the show and then saw a spike immediately afterward – essentially no one took a toilet break because they didn't want to miss a Lucy antic that everyone would be talking about. Sixty percent of adult Americans watched the finales of The Fugitive in 1967 and M*A*S*H in 1983. For the contemporary TV classic Breaking Bad, a mere 4 percent of American adults saw its series finale in 2013.

The newspaper bound us together then, delivering to the front door or the newsstand the daily digest of American aspirations and concerns. We treated them as such sacred tablets of our times that people saved copies as mementos of historic or unifying events – as when our astronauts landed on the moon or when President Nixon resigned or when the Mets won the World Series or whenever Ali and Frazier fought.

But today as a nation we don't have common sources of news and we don't have common experiences to share. Rather than read through a newspaper and confront news and information we didn't choose but need to know, people today personalize their newsfeeds and customize the information that comes their way. Rather than follow the judgment of editors trained to distill the nation and the world, we follow people on Twitter predisposed to confirm our worldviews and reinforce rather than expand our interests.

What used to unify now splinters. How easy it is to swipe past an important story when something new grabs our short attention span. How easy it is to skim a serious issue when we and our friends have so much else on our minds.

And because we share few collective moments and don't have a common media culture, we rarely hold the types of universal conversations that connected us with one another. And with few of these conversations it becomes harder and harder to establish the norms of mutual respect that humanize even when we disagree.

Perhaps this fractured culture is why we have a Donald Trump today. And perhaps it was that common ground media culture of yesteryear – no matter how divided we were politically – that enabled us to see the grace and beauty of a Muhammad Ali. We are richer with information and media than at any time in history. The question is what we will do with it.

The 3 billion population of the world does not get enough food. On the other hand, 930 million tons of food is wasted by the rich, find out how much grain Indians are wasting …

The problem of food availability and hunger is increasing all over the world due to the coron epidemic and lockdown. On the other hand, it has come to light that food is being wasted indiscriminately by rich and well-to-do people. The Food Waste Index Report 2021 released by the United Nations is the opposite. According to the report, an estimated 931 million tons of food waste goes into the bin worldwide. In the year 2019, 17% of the total food available to the consumers went to the dustbin through domestic, retailers, restaurants and other food services. India is not far behind.

The UNEP report released on Thursday said that the total weight of waste fodder in India in 2019-20 is equal to the total production of pulses, sugarcane and horticultural products. Even in India, where millions of people are struggling to make ends meet, the report says. Here, too, tons of food are wasted every year. Experts are looking for a way out of this serious controversy. We need to run an awareness campaign on this issue with the help of the government and NGOs.

Globally, 74 kilograms of food are wasted in households. In other countries, 82 kg of food is wasted every year in Afghanistan, 79 kg in Nepal, 76 kg in Sri Lanka, 74 kg in Pakistan and 65 kg in Bangladesh. Per capita, food waste is actually higher in West Asian and sub-Saharan African countries compared to most of South Asian and European and North American countries.

The report cites the Food and Agriculture Organization, which estimates that 690 million people worldwide will suffer from hunger in 2019. The number has risen sharply during and after the Corona epidemic, the Food Waste Index report said. This report will definitely get the message across to the people and help prevent waste from being eaten. Because, the food problem is facing 3 billion people worldwide.

Let me tell you, 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. According to the report, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said GHC emissions would be cut to reduce food wastage. The destruction of nature will be slowed down through land conversion and pollution. Food availability will increase, and thus hunger will be reduced. Money will be saved in times of global recession.

Muhammad Ali

We begin on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, where Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr was born, the second son of sign painter Cassius Sr and cleaning lady&nbsp.

Muhammad Ali: A Life in Ten Pictures (BBC2, 9pm) The Great Garden Revolution (C4, 8pm) Blinded: Those Who Kill (BBC4, 9pm) The Jonathan Ross Show…

Ilie Năstase (74 de ani) a dezvăluit o poveste inedită care îl are în prim-plan pe legendarul Muhammad Ali, cel considerat de mulţi specialişti cel mai mare boxer&nbsp.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier will remain the fighters to whom fighters compare themselves. The Fight of the Century is just one of the reasons for it.

However, aged just 25, he was stripped of his boxing licence for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. In his absence, Frazier ascended to the heavyweight summit.

Ali was born in the west end of Louisville on January 17, 1942, as Cassius Clay. He began boxing at the age of 12 after his bike was stolen and he told Louisville&nbsp.

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, would have been celebrating his 79th birthday today had he not passed away in June of 2016. Ali, born of course, Cassius&nbsp.

He began boxing at the age of 12 after his bike was stolen and he told Louisville police officer Joe Martin that he wanted to “beat up” the thief. Martin invited Clay to&nbsp.

In a special edition of The Opening Bell, Boxing News is proud to bring you a rarely heard interview with Muhammad Ali from 1972.

TEHRAN - Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, says Diego Maradona “had something&nbsp.

50 years ago, March 8th, 300 million fans worldwide watched Ali-Frazier I, a fight with political overtones

There are no sporting events today that could compete with the breathtaking anticipation of a heavyweight championship fight in the golden years of boxing. The Sweet Science captivated the nation during most of the 20th Century.

In the early years of radio, beginning in the 1920s, boxing represented audience numbers that were numbing. In 1927, radio was still a phenomenon, only six years young at the time. Radio sets flew off the shelves. The fights as much as any other top programming triggered interest in the new medium.

When Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey in the famous ‘long count’ in Chicago, the New York Times printed a three-line, front page headline that appeared in large font and in bold lettering. One of the lines read, “Millions listened on the radio.”

In 1938, when Joe Louis beat the German, Max Schmeling, television wasn’t born yet. The fight did a 63 rating on radio. It translates simply 63% of Americans were listening to the rumble. That’s more than a Super Bowl today on television. The Louis-Schmeling fight of course had strong racial overtones, a Black man fighting a white man representing, at least ostensibly, Hitler’s Germany.

Widespread interest in the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight on March 8th 1971 was fueled in many ways by the contrasting stances among rival supporters in a divided nation, for or against the Vietnam War. Many younger Americans deaminized Richard Nixon, a law and order president, who referenced his own supporters as the silent majority.

On February 26, 1964, a day after he upset Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay told the media that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali and that he was joining the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group, considered controversial.

Going forward, he was labeled by many as iconoclastic.

Ali later dodged the draft by representing himself as a conscientious objector. He was convicted for not reporting for induction into the military in 1967. It cost him his heavyweight title in some states including New York. Months after the Frazier fight, Ali won his appeal to the Supreme Court which reversed his conviction.

Ali was brash and glib. Early on, he attracted those rooting for an underdog, albeit an irrepressible and loquacious one. Frazier on the other hand was viewed as more middle-class and mainstream, one who didn’t espouse contentious views, a Black Philadelphian who better fit a more urban working class profile. He let his fists do most of his talking. Otherwise, Frazier was somewhat laconic. He was no match for Muhammad’s gift of gab.

For the first time in the 20 th Century, a heavyweight championship bout pitted two fighters, both of whom were undefeated.

The card was announced on December 30, 1970. It would be held at Madison Square Garden on March 8th.

This was before all-sports radio, cable television and even the relevance of the FM band. For better than three months, the fight was a constant subject of conversation. It was all about AM radio, the daily newspapers, Sports Illustrated and over the air television.

In retrospect, Ali and ABC’s Howard Cosell grew in lockstep. The commentator’s support of Ali brought the broadcaster to the national fore. It fueled Cosell’s polarizing image of a loud mouth. Howard was either loved or hated.

It was cold in New York on Monday March 8 th and that night the city and nation stopped. The long awaited rumble was about to begin.

There were few choices by which to follow the fight. Live video coverage was limited to closed-circuit ticket holders who packed many movie theaters. The chief promoter, Jerry Perenchio, wouldn’t allow the brawl to air on commercial radio which by itself spawned a groundswell of protest and an argument with his co-promoter, Jack Kent Cooke. Non theater goers had to find a radio station that provided updates after each round. For the promoters, it was about the ticket proceeds at the Garden and the closed-circuit revenue.

The legendary boxing announcer Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow for closed circuit viewers. He was joined by actor Burt Lancaster and former Light Heavyweight champ, Archie Moore.

In the first of a multi-part series, we focus on Dunphy who was considered the Voice of Boxing for close to half a century.

Don was a New Yorker through and through. His accent was redolent of Manhattan. He was born in Manhattan, was raised in Manhattan, attended Manhattan College and enjoyed a cocktail yes, a Manhattan. In college, he starred in track.

Dunphy began covering sporting events for various newspapers before beginning to broadcast at a remote New York radio station for $7 a week. By the mid-1930s, he helped Earl Harper at WINS call Manhattan College football. When Harper moved to WNEW, Dunphy became the sports director at WINS.

Sam Taub was the early pioneer of blow-by-blow boxing, calling thousands of tussles in the pre-war years, be it locally on New York radio and nationally on NBC. For some of the huge battles, like Louis-Schmeling, the well know horserace-caller, Clem McCarthy got the assignment.

in 1941, Gillette outbid Adam Hats for the fight rights and moved the broadcasts from NBC to Mutual Radio Network. A new broadcaster would be selected to replace Sam Taub. Dunphy was invited to partake in an audition. Gillette had several voices demonstrate their wares by doing two rounds each of a light-heavyweight battle. between Anton Christoforidis and Gus Lesnivich. One competitor for the coveted broadcast gig was Mel Allen.

It was winner take all. Get the assignment and you’ll call virtually every major fight nationally year-round.

Working smartly, Dunphy won the square-off. While others who auditioned, stammered using last names that were tongue twisters, Christoforidis and Lesnivich, Don cleverly identified the fighters by only their first names, Anton and Gus, through rapid flurries of blows.

Dunphy was well liked. I never heard another sportscaster, colleague, competitor or contemporary utter a nasty word about him. The one word I would hear about Dunphy is gentleman. He passed in 1998 at age 90.

His first big fight was the 1941 showdown between Billy Conn and Joe Louis at the Polo Grounds. For decades to follow, Dunphy dominated boxing broadcasts, first on radio and later on television. On radio he did 22 heavyweight championships and on television 25 more. On October 3 1985, Dunphy, then 77, announced Michael Spinks’ defeat of Larry Holmes in Las Vegas. It was his last boxing gig, as best as I can see.

How Dunphy got the blow-by-blow assignment to Ali-Frazier:

By 1971, the broadcasts were no longer under the aegis of Gillette so Dunphy wasn’t getting the gig by default. The Fight of the Century took a different twist. The promoter was in the entertaining business. Jerry Perenchio was a Hollywood based agent who represented names like actors, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and singer Andy Williams.

Dunphy was invited by Madison Square Garden to attend the December 30th 1970 press conference where the details of the fight were announced. It was at the famed watering-hole, Toot’s Shor, a popular hangout for sports figures. At the press affair, Dunphy was introduced to Perenchio, whom he had never met and with whom he was completely unfamiliar.

They exchanged pleasantries but that was it. Management of MSG Boxing endorsed Dunphy for the blow-by-blow role but Don knew getting the assignment would be an uphill battle. He was unsure whether Perenchio was familiar with his name and his stature in the world of broadcast boxing.

Meanwhile, the Ali camp kept pushing for Cosell. Given the promoter’s Hollywood roots, Dunphy figured the Lakers’ Chick Hearn would also be in the mix of consideration. Still, he left Toot’s determined to win the assignment.

Dunphy’s son Don, Jr. worked at ABC News, home too of Howard Cosell. A little while after the press conference, he told his dad that Cosell said to him, “I’m not doing the fight and neither is your father. They’re going with Kirk Douglas, Andy Williams and Burt Lancaster.”

When Dunphy heard that from his son, he said to himself, “Why not the Marx Brothers, at least they’re funny.”

In time, agent Bill Cooper arranged for a meeting with Perenchio at the upscale St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. Dunphy asked Jerry whether Andy Williams would be involved. Perenchio laughed, “Oh, no! Maybe, he’ll sing the national anthem.”

It was apparent though that Perenchio planned to use Lancaster in a visible role. Perenchio played up the actor to Dunphy, hyping his knowledge of the fight game. Jerry went on to say that he and Lancaster watched the Ali-Oscar Bonevena fight together and they both shouted at the set pleading for Cosell to shut up.

Dunphy and agent Cooper left the meeting feeling confident. Cooper told Dunphy that he would ask for a $10,000 fee, a huge amount in 1971. Negotiations are just that and they settled for $5,000 which Dunphy claimed in his auto-biography, Don Dunphy at Ringside, was the highest fee an announcer ever got for doing one sporting event. At roughly the same time Ray Scott got $800 to announce the Super Bowl on CBS.

So it was Dunphy, Lancaster and Moore. A footnote: It wasn’t the first time an actor got involved in a heavyweight broadcast. In 1959, when the Swede, Ingemar Johansson fought Floyd Patterson at Yankee Stadium, it was broadcast on ABC Radio. Les Keiter and Howard Cosell were joined by William Holden and John Wayne. The fight was sponsored by the flick, The Horse Soldiers, therein the actors.

Dunphy said that Ali-Frazier I was viewed by 300 million people worldwide.

Rest of series – Ali-Frazier I

I'm a Democratic senator — here's why I changed my mind on the filibuster

The following was posted on U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s (D-MN.) Facebook page on Thursday, March 4, 2021:

The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. Right now, the Senate has 50 Republican senators. They represent less than 44% of America. And yet they still have the power to stop us from passing laws that a majority of America wants.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and to be honest I started out believing we should keep the filibuster. Without it, I reasoned, what would stop a conservative president and Congress from doing terrible damage to women’s health care, voting rights and civil rights. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress. In fact, it’s been a highly effective tool to thwart the will of the people.What the filibuster does is allow a minority of Senators to just say no to any idea they don’t like.

The US Senate has a lot of rules that most people don’t understand—including most Senators. Most of these rules don’t spring from the Constitution or the minds of the founders they have grown out of a centuries long battle between about who gets to decide.

So who DOES decide? You may think the answer is obvious: In our Republic, the people decide. In state legislatures, city halls, county boards and in the U.S. House of Representatives, a majority of those elected by the people decide. But in the U.S. Senate, the rules are uniquely different. In reality, every day in the U.S. Senate a minority can decide. And they do it by threatening to talk to death any idea, policy or proposal that they don’t like. That’s what the filibuster is. And that’s why it has to go.

The filibuster didn’t come from the Constitution, or from our founders. It grew up as tool developed by a minority in the senate—mostly white, racist Southern senators from the Democratic party—to protect their interest in owning and exploiting Black bodies. After the Civil War, and passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and after a brief period of hopefulness for the future of Black Americans, the filibuster became an even more powerful tool, used to deny voting rights and the opportunity for Black people to own a home or land, and to build wealth and opportunity for their own …read more

The sportswriter

Izenberg is 90 years old. He just cut a new deal to keep writing for the Newark Star-Ledger. He has probably attended and written about more boxing matches than any other living journalist. He interviewed Ali and Frazier more often, ate with them more, wrote about them more and had better access than all others. His aforementioned book is more memory than research.

On the night of March 8, 1971, Izenberg wasn’t at Madison Square Garden.

“My father-in-law died the night before,” he says.

A few days after the fight, he watched a tape, agreed with the decision, and started to follow up. He pursued new angles, did what a gumshoe newspaper reporter does, what he still does now.

“I knew that Ali was going on TV,” Izenberg says. “I thought I better get to Frazier in Philly. I go there. I walk into his gym. First thing I see is a floor-to-ceiling picture of Joe looking at Ali, who is on the canvas after the 15th round knockdown.

“I tell him we need to talk. He says we’ll go to a deli, get some food, then talk.

“At the deli, three kids come running up to Joe. One says his daddy told him Ali lost the fight because he was drugged. Joe gets down on his knees in front of the kid, looks him right in the eye and says, ‘You tell your dad that Ali was drugged, that I drugged him with three left hooks.’ ”

For Izenberg, what happened next remains his best summary of Ali-Frazier — the men, the fights, the glory and the tragedy.

“The kids leave, Joe looks at me and says, ‘What do I have to do to convince people I won what do I have to do to get out of his shadow?’”

From that, Izenberg — whose chapter about Frazier in his book is titled “The Man Who Wasn’t Ali” — concludes, “He never did.”

Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier: Revisiting the Fight of the Century, 50 years on

Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century at Madison Square Garden on a Monday night in March 1971 to become the greatest boxer on the planet in a fight that stopped the world.

The two boxers made $2.5million each, they were unbeaten as fighters and they met on a stage in a ring lit by history. Presidents, kings, despots and beggars stopped to listen or watch or beg the result. On the night, 5,000 besieged the sacred ground of the Garden and 20,000 filled every seat and aisle and step inside. There had never been a sporting event like it. Never.

Ali had been exiled since 1967, his refusal to be inducted to the American military had seen him stripped of his world heavyweight title. Frazier had won the heavyweight title Ali had returned to the ring six months earlier. That is all you need to know. And then a pair of Los Angeles swells found $5m to pay the fighters. It’s a fight and night swirling forever in myth and legend.

Jerry Perenchio was a Hollywood super agent and Jack Kent Cooke owned sports teams. They had the money and they knew they would make more money. It is amazing to think that there was not a traditional boxing promoter with the cash, vision or drive to put the fight on. Perenchio had never met the two boxers, not once.

The Hollywood man made sure the fight was not undersold. “It’s potentially the greatest single grosser in the history of the world,” said Perenchio. “It’s like Gone With The Wind . It’s the Mona Lisa.” The fight was going to be out of the hands of the old-time boxing writers and their influence. They would record it, make it a matter of public record, but they were not needed to sell it.

Frazier had his man, Yank Durham, foul-mouthed and ruthless Ali had his men, Angelo Dundee, the trainer, Gene Kilroy, the facilitator. The two boxers had divided opinion before the first bell. Sweet Burt Lancaster was there, swooning, expectant in his role as the fight summariser.

On the night, high-rollers and gangsters and politicians occupied the best seats at the Garden: “Hey, Ang,” somebody called to Dundee as he climbed the steps to the ring. Dundee looked down, it was Frank Sinatra leaning on the ring apron, holding a camera. In the world of Ali, somehow Sinatra had become a photographer and one of his pictures would be on the cover of Life magazine (circulation 7m each week). And, it was not bad and it was his. The night of myth, legend, myth, legend was in full swing.

Neil Leifer, perhaps the most iconic boxing photographer ever, was ringside that night and he received an apology from Sinatra a few years later. “I will never compete with you again,” Sinatra told him. Myth, legend, love it.

The Garden agreed and found space for 760 members of the media and refused 500. There was a moving sea of men tapping away on tiny typewriters. The world had stopped, the world was watching and waiting. The scribes were there to record history, holding their cherished memories until they died. I know, I have spoken to so many of them since that night.

First bell to last. It was a better fight than anybody expected. Brutal, smart, fast, breathtaking action at times. It is a wonderful watch even now. Two unbeaten and untouchable heavyweight champions Ali was 29 with 31 fights, Frazier was 27 with 26 fights. They had beaten every single fighter during a decade of brilliance. There was not a single voice calling out for justice from the heap of bloodied and savaged men they had ruined. It was the only fight that mattered to the world. And that has never happened since.

The third man was Arthur Mercante. He had arrived at the Garden that afternoon not sure if he would be selected for the fight. The referee was kept a mystery, two men were on the list Mercante got the ticket: “If you could move with Ali, you had the best seat in the house,” Mercante said. The following morning, Mercante was back at work at a brewery. Myth, legend.

In round 15, Ali is dropped by the greatest left hook in history. He would surely not get up from a punch that perfect at the end of such a draining fight? No way: two minutes and 21 seconds remain on the clock when he regains his feet. Opens his eyes. How? He is up before Mercante has finished shuffling Frazier to a neutral corner. How? Time, my friend, stood still as Ali fell to earth hands across the world went up and at the same time hands went to cover eyes. The ego had landed, the hero was over, the enemy was dropped. “Man down,” they hollered. The legend and the myth.

And then the fight resumes. They are hitting each other again just seconds after Ali had been over. It is epic. It is the greatest three minutes I have ever seen. The bell finally sounds one second early to end the Fight of the Century. It is over and even watching it now, 50 years on, I doubt you will be sitting when the last bell sounds. Please, play the Rocky theme in your head as you hover over a screen throwing punches.

They are both exhausted, Ali’s jaw is starting to swell. Frazier is just blood and swollen features. They teeter, they try to talk, to shake off the exhaustion. They want to collapse they will each say they have no control over their bodies. The scores are in: Mercante has it 8-6 with one even, Bill Recht has it 11-4 and Artie Aidala has it 9-6. The winner and still unbeaten is Joe Frazier. No complaints.

They each need hospital. Frazier can’t function and Ali is dressed by the men that love him. They each have midnight X-rays. Myth and legend.

“A lot of great fighters get whupped,” Ali managed to say. “I know I lost to a great champion.” Ali became legend in that losing fight, Frazier became a great. The time for harsh words was over in the aftermath there was only truth, a raw truth from 8 March 1971 at the Garden: It was the Fight of the Century.

Ali slipped away from New York, driven by Kilroy in the fighter’s new luxury mobile home – shower, television, electricity. They drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, got on the New Jersey Turnpike and went to Ali’s home in Cherry Hill. Ali, his father, his devoted brother and Kilroy at the wheel. It was not doom and gloom in that vehicle. Ali and Frazier would have more business, Ali would become simply, The Greatest.

“There would never be another night like it in my life,” said Frazier. There never needed to be. It was a night at boxing’s holy citadel that made both men and changed sport. And, sadly, it left a bit of damage.

How the Ali-Frazier 'Fight of the Century' Became a Proxy Battle for a Divided Nation - HISTORY

He was born Jan. 18, 1942, in Louisville, Ky. Clay, who started fighting at the age of 12, won two national Golden Gloves middleweight championships and an AAU national light-heavyweight title. Soon after graduating from high school, Clay won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

In his early pro bouts, Clay showed unbelievable hand and foot speed for someone 6-foot-3 and about 190 pounds. As he developed, he showed a stinging jab and an improving right hand. He held his hands low and avoided punches to the head by bobbing out of the way.

The brash youngster was a terrific self-promoter, mugging for the camera and boasting that not only was he the greatest fighter, he also was the prettiest. He predicted in rhyme, with unerring accuracy, the round in which he would knock out his opponent ("They all fall/in the round I call"). In a period when interest in boxing had waned, Clay revitalized the sport.

While he had brought life to the sport, the boxing press was not convinced Clay was ready to dethrone heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. Before the Feb. 25, 1964 fight in Miami Beach, 43 of 46 writers predicted a Liston victory. A 7-1 underdog, Clay scored a stunning upset when Liston didn't come out for the seventh round, claiming a shoulder injury.

The next morning he confirms he had joined the Nation of Islam. On March 6, the sect's leader, Elijah Muhammad, gave a radio address which he declared the name Cassius Clay lacked a "divine meaning." He gave him the muslim name "Muhammad Ali." Muhammad meant one worthy of praise, and Ali was the name of a cousin of the prophets.

The popular opinion was that the heavyweight champ shouldn't be preaching what was considered a "hate religion." Ali's popularity nose-dived.

Promoters shied away from his rematch with Liston, and it was held in front of only a few thousand fans in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965. Liston never made it past the first round, Ali scoring a knockout with what some claim was a "phantom punch." Six months later, Ali unmercifully punished former champ Floyd Patterson before the fight was stopped in the 12th round.

Ali successfully defended his title seven more times through March 22, 1967. But his TKO of Zora Folley was his last fight in the ring for 3½ years. Now, Ali's opponent was Uncle Sam. When the military attempted to draft him, Ali said he was a conscientious objector. "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong," he had said in 1966.

Appearing for his scheduled induction on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more Ali refused to budge when his name was called.

That day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit.

At the trial two months later, the jury, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, found Ali guilty. The judge imposed the maximum sentence. After a court of appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During this time, people turned against the war, and support for Ali grew.

Eight months before the Supreme Court ruled, Ali returned to the ring. There was no state commission in Georgia, and on Oct. 26, 1970, Ali scored a third-round TKO over Jerry Quarry in Atlanta. Six weeks later, he registered a 15th-round TKO over Oscar Bonavena in New York.

Two undefeated heavyweights stepped into the ring in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 in what was billed as "The Fight of the Century." Joe Frazier and Ali each received then-record purses of $2.5 million. Remarkably, the fight lived up to the hype. The two punched at a furious pace, with Frazier applying unrelenting pressure and Ali answering with rapid combinations. A sweeping left hook by Frazier decked Ali in the 15th round. While Frazier left with a battered face, he also exited with the unanimous decision and his title.

Ali, however, claimed victory in a bigger decision three months later when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

After following the Frazier loss with 10 victorious fights, Ali dropped a 12-round decision to Ken Norton, who broke Ali's jaw. Ali reversed that decision later in 1973.

The second Ali-Frazier fight, on Jan. 28, 1974, didn't live up to the standards set by the first, but it still was a good one. Ali gained a unanimous decision, setting up a match with George Foreman, who had knocked out Frazier for the title.

"You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?" Ali said. "Wait till I whup George Foreman's behind."

The Rumble in the Jungle was fought in the pre-dawn hours in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali, a 7-1 underdog, introduced the Rope-a-Dope, where he stood flatfooted against the ropes and covered up as Foreman flailed away. By the eighth round, the unbeaten champion was exhausted, and Ali knocked him out. He had become the second heavyweight (Patterson was the first) to regain the title.

Ali had become America's champion. The most vilified athlete of the '60s had become the most heroic of the '70s. A man denounced as anti-America in 1967 was invited to the White House in 1974.

Eleven months after whupping Foreman came the Thrilla in Manila. Ali took the early rounds before Frazier hammered away in the middle rounds. But Ali showed the heart of the champion in the late rounds. He staggered Frazier in the 13th and, with the challenger's eye swollen shut, pummeled him in the 14th. When the bell rang for Round 15, Eddie Futch, Frazier's trainer, threw in the towel.

An overconfident Ali lost his title on Feb. 15, 1978 when Leon Spinks, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist who had only seven fights as a pro, took a split decision. Ali regained the title from Spinks seven months later, winning a unanimous decision. He had become the first three-time heavyweight champion. It would be his last victory.

The following June, Ali announced his retirement. But money brought him back, and Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick beat him in his last two fights. Ali, with a 56-5 record, retired for good.

Unfortunately, all the punches he suffered had taken an effect. In 1984, Ali learned he had Parkinson's disease, a neurological syndrome characterized by tremors, rigidity of muscles and slowness of speech and movement. While the disease has left him a shadow of his former self, he still attempts to spread good will. Only now he does it with smiling eyes rather than his Louisville Lip.

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ali again stood alone in the spotlight. With the world watching, he steadied his trembling hands to light the flaming cauldron and signal the start of the Games. Tears were shed by many, as the man whose beliefs had once divided a nation was now a unifiying -- and beloved -- force.


The March 8, 1971 fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier unfolded against the backdrop of a nation tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

When Joe Frazier and , “many whites who disliked Ali on racial grounds adopted Frazier as their designated Black representative.”

Ali piled on, deriding Frazier as too stupid and too ugly to be heavyweight champion and even, in the ultimate insult, dismissing him as an “Uncle Tom.” Tensions were high: Izenberg, who had written several columns for the Newark Star-Ledger supporting Ali’s stance on the war, had his car windshield smashed in. It was, he noted, hippies against hard hats, the young generation against their elders, all of them using Ali and Frazier as cyphers and forgetting that, “as dramatic as the story was, this was still just a prize fight between two very good heavyweight boxers.”

Watch the video: When Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier got into a fight in a TV studio. Boxing on ESPN (May 2022).