Famous Ring Wars: Ali vs Frazier 1 – Part 2
By John F. McKenna (McJack): So great was the anticipation for the March 8, 1971 showdown between Ali and Frazier that Madison Square Garden was thronged with the most famous celebrities of the day. Frank Sinatra used his influence with Life Magazine to provide him with a camera and assign him to cover the fight as a photographer. Woody Allen and Norman Mailer were there as was Le Roy Neiman, who painted the combatants as they did battle. Burt Lancaster, who had never reported on a fight, was given a microphone and acted as a color commentator for the closed circuit TV broadcast.
I remember watching the fight on closed circuit TV at the arena in Cherry Hill, NJ. Fans were so into it that a number of fights broke at out at the arena. There were reports of riots breaking out at locations that had technical difficulties and lost the picture just as the fight was ready to go on. Those who backed Ali thought that he would be able to confuse and baffle Frazier with his superior hand and foot speed and were encouraged when Ali was able to score repeatedly against Frazier in the early rounds. As the rounds progressed however, “Smokin’” Joe started coming on with his thunderous hooks to the body. It was obvious that Ali was feeling the effect of Frazier’s body attack and that Joe’s punches had more power. As the fight moved into the championship rounds, Joe was like a locomotive that was building up steam. Ali had no time to rest as Frazier bored in, landing blow after blow to Ali’s body. Fans began to wonder if the long layoff had in fact affected Ali’s stamina and his ability to stave off the brutal body attack being inflicted on him by Philadelphia’s pride and joy. In the eleventh round Frazier nailed Ali with a terrific left hook that sent him reeling against the ropes. Only Ali’s indomitable will kept him from going down. I remember turning to friends who I had gone to watch the close circuit TV showing with and saying “it’s all over!” We were all young and we were all hoping that somehow Ali could pull it out. When I uttered those words I could see their faces drop. They too knew it was all over for Ali. Frazier continued his attack unabated through the 14th round and was ahead on all three scorecards going into the 15th round. Things only got worse for Ali in the 15th round. Another crushing left hook floored Ali. The amazing thing was that he was able to get up. The right side of his face was grotesquely misshapen. Ali made it to the final bell, which was a testament to his character as a fighter. Of course Frazier won the decision and rightfully so. Even Ali acknowledged years later that Frazier was the better man that night. This author scored the fight eleven rounds to four for Frazier. Although I desperately wanted Ali to win, I could not honestly give him any more that four rounds.
Joe Frazier, attempting to put things in perspective before the bout started, was heard to mutter: “Heck, it’s only a fight.” Both fighters went to the hospital afterwards from the effects of all the punishment that they had absorbed.
It was not until years later that Frazier’s anger towards Ali would subside. Seeing what the ravages of Parkinson’s disease had done to the once glib Muhammad Ali helped to soften him. I am amazed also at the transformation of my own thinking over the years.
I was a huge fan of Ali in 1971 and there will always be a warm spot in my heart for him.
For Joe Frazier, my admiration has grown immeasurably. He was a patriotic American attempting to help a fellow fighter in Muhammad Ali, who was down and out. That was why Ali’s words stung him so badly. I too, did not comprehend what Ali’s taunts were doing to this prideful man, but that was 1971. I was not much more than a kid. What the hell did I know?