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Today in Sports History: 3/8 – The Fight of the Century

Today in sports history (1971), the greatest fight in boxing history occurred at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The 26-0 heavyweight champion Joe Frazier was looking to defend his championship against 31-0 and former champ Muhammad Ali. This fight was the most anticipated match in history, as both men were at the top of their games. Both men were also two of the greatest boxers of all time.

Ali was recently stripped of his championship titles for refusing to fight in Vietnam. Because of this, the Americans against the war sided with Ali. The Americans in favor of the war sided with Frazier. Frazier outlasted Ali in 15 rounds and was the beginning to a series of three fights.

Fight of the Century Muhammad Ali Joe Frazier
Credit: Bettmann//Getty Images

Joe Frazier Outlasts Muhammad Ali in 15 Rounds

Celebrities, police officers and many, many people filled up Madison Square Garden to watch the two heavyweights go at it. In fact, Frank Sinatra took pictures of LIFE, so he could get closer to the ring.

Ali dominated the first two rounds, using quick strikes to Frazier’s body as a way to wear him down. As round three ended, Frazier hit Ali with a hook to the jaw. Frazier then took over the fourth round, hitting Ali with left hooks and pinning him against the ropes. It became obvious that Ali was getting tired in the sixth round. At the midpoint of the round, Frazier grabbed Ali’s wrists and swung him to the middle of the ring. Ali immediately grabbed Frazier and the two had to be separated.

Frazier caught Ali with another left hook early in the 11th round. Ali then slipped on water in Frazier’s corner. After a “no-knockdown” call from the referee, the fight continued. At the end of the round, Frazier once again surprised Ali with a left hook. In round 15, all three judges had Frazier winning the fight. Early in the round, Frazier knocked Ali to the ground, where Ali’s jaw was swollen. Frazier had given Ali his first professional loss, winning by unanimous decision.


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