ALI - FRAZIER
"FIGHT of The CENTURY"
Madison Square Garden
March 8, 1971
When Joe Frazier met Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, the storyline went much deeper than two undefeated heavyweights clashing for the belt. Ali had refused induction in the U.S. Army, was considered radical chic and seemed to embody the culture of the 1960s. Frazier was cast as a champion fighting for the establishment. Frank Sinatra was a ring-side photographer for Life magazine. Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Hugh Hefner, Dustin Hoffman and Diana Ross were ringside. Burt Lancaster was part of the closed circuit broadcast team. All that, and the fight actually lived up to its billing as the "Fight of the Century." After 15 rounds of thrilling toe-to-toe action, Frazier won a unanimous decision.
ALI FRAZIER Fight Poster
FRANK SINATRA at The ALI - FRAZIER Fight
March 1971 MADISON SQUARE GARDEN , New York
Frank Sinatra figures into this story as a boxing fan and amateur photographer – and also, of course, by his own high-powered celebrity (for more on Sinatra see “Sinatra Stories”). The famous singer and Hollywood actor was then known for his 1969 hit song, “My Way,” which had reached the Top 40 in the U.S. and did even better in the U.K. However, by early 1971 he was also talking retirement, possibly by June, after he completed a charity event.
But that March of 1971, Sinatra was keen to get a ringside seat for the Ali-Frazier fight, but few were available. One report had it that he made a deal withLife magazine to do some photography for the magazine at the Ali-Frazier fight, which would give him more or less free license to roam around up close to the action. But in the introduction to Life’s March 16th, 1971 edition reporting on the fight, managing editor Ralph Graves explained in an “editor’s note” column how the magazine came to use both Sinatra and writer Norman Mailer beyond its own reporters and photographers. On Sinatra’s role, contrary to some other stories at the time, here’s how Graves described it:
…For our pictures of the action, we were relying on the magazine pool photographers at ringside, especially Sport’s Illustrated’s Neil Leifer and Tony Triolo, who delivered outstanding pictures. But it never hurts to have a horseshoe in your glove. Six years ago staff writer Tommy Thompson and photographer John Dominis were doing a story on Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was fascinated by Dominis’ equipment and admitted he had been interested in taking pictures for 20 years. Shortly before the fight Tommy learned that Sinatra had wangled himself a ringside seat and was going to take pictures with a battery of cameras. Tommy went to work wangling Sinatra into letting us have a look at his film. We didn’t expect to get anything the professional photographers didn’t have, but it might be worth inspecting. Indeed, Sinatra wound up getting the cover, a memorable full-spread picture [inside the magazine] (yes, he held his camera at that angle on purpose), and two other shots in our story. We are offering him a job…
ALI Dodges a BULLET From JOE FRAZIER
COVER PHOTO For LIFE MAGAZINE
The FIGHT of THE CENTURY
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, billed as the Fight of the Century (also known as The Fight), was the boxing match between WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (26–0, 23 KOs) and The Ring heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (31–0, 25 KOs), held on Monday, March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.It was the first time that two undefeated boxers fought each other for the heavyweight title. Frazier won in 15 rounds via unanimous decision. It was the first of a trilogy, followed by the rematch fights Super Fight II (1974) and Thrilla in Manila (1975), both won by Ali.
On the evening of the match, Madison Square Garden had a circus-like atmosphere, with scores of policemen to control the crowd, outrageously dressed fans, and countless celebrities, from Norman Mailer to Woody Allen. Frank Sinatra, who, after being unable to procure a ringside seat, took photographs for Life magazine instead. Artist LeRoy Neiman painted Ali and Frazier as they fought. Burt Lancaster served as a color commentator for the closed-circuit broadcast. Though Lancaster had never performed as a sports commentator before, he was hired by the fight's promoter, Jerry Perenchio, who was also a friend. The other commentators were play-by-play announcer Don Dunphy and boxing champion Archie Moore. The fight was sold to, and broadcast by closed circuit, to 50 countries in 12 languages via ringside reporters to an audience estimated at 300 million, a record viewership for a television event at that time. Riots broke out at several venues as unresolvable technical issues interrupted the broadcast in several cities in the third round. And, although no live radio coverage of the fight itself was allowed under the terms of the promotion, the Mutual Radio Network did broadcast the fight, the night of March 8th, with announcers Van Patrick and Charles King, together with many other sports commentators, providing round-by-round summaries live as they came out over the UPI and AP wire services.
The referee for the fight was Arthur Mercante, Sr. After the fight, Mercante, a veteran referee of hundreds of fights, said "They both threw some of the best punches I've ever seen."
The fight itself exceeded even its promotional hype and went the full 15-round championship distance. Ali dominated the first three rounds, peppering the shorter Frazier with rapier-like jabs that raised welts on the champion's face. In the closing seconds of round three, Frazier connected with a tremendous hook to Ali's jaw, snapping his head back. Frazier began to dominate in the fourth round, catching Ali with several of his famed left hooks and pinning him against the ropes to deliver tremendous body blows.
Ali was visibly tired after the sixth round, and though he put together some flurries of punches after that round, he was unable to keep the pace he had set in the first third of the fight. At 1 minute and 59 seconds into round eight, following his clean left hook to Ali's right jaw, Frazier grabbed Ali's wrists and swung Ali into the center of the ring; however, Ali immediately grabbed Frazier again until they were once again separated by Mercante.
Frazier caught Ali with a left hook at nine seconds into round 11. A fraction of a second later, slipping on water in Frazier's corner, Ali fell with both gloves and his right knee to the canvas. Mercante stepped between Ali and Frazier, separating them as Ali rose. Mercante wiped Ali's gloves and waved "no knockdown." At 18 seconds into round 11, Mercante signaled the fighters to engage once again. Round 11 wound down with Frazier staggering Ali with a left hook. Ali stumbled and grabbed at Frazier to keep his balance and finally stumbled back first to the ropes before bouncing forward again to Frazier and grabbing on to Frazier until the fighters were separated by Mercante at 2:55 into the round.
Heading into Round 15, Frazier held the thinnest of leads on the judges scorecards (7–6–1, 10–4–0, and 8–6–0); so thin that, were he to lose the final round, he could still win, but only be by a single point. To be sure, Frazier closed convincingly. Early in round 15, Frazier landed a left hook that put Ali on the canvas. Ali, his jaw swollen noticeably, got up at the count of four, and managed to stay on his feet for the rest of the round despite several terrific blows from Frazier. A few minutes later the judges made it official: Frazier had retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss.
FRAZIER / ALI
by Leroy Neiman