On February 8th 1971 Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden, New York City in a match hyped as the Fight of the Century. One of the most highly anticipated events in sport’s history, It was the first time two undefeated boxers faced off for the heavyweight title.
The two boxers genuinely disliked each other. Muhammad Ali who had been stripped of his title in 1967 and exiled from the ring for refusing to register for the Vietnam War draft, had become a symbol of the left-wing anti war and civil rights movement. Joe Frazier, the reigning title holder, was embraced by the pro war conservatives looking for a champion to call their own
The fight itself lived up to all the hype. Ali dominated the first 2 rounds coming out with a flurry of blows, but late in the 3rd round Frazier hit Ali with a devastating left hook. Frazier took control of the fight in the 4th round peppering Ali with a more left hooks. Ali started to run out of steam in the 6th round, and was unable to keep the pace he had set earlier in the fight. Nine seconds into Round 11 Frazier caught Ali with another left hook, and Ali falling back slipped on some water in the corner fell to the mat. The referee declared “No Knockdown” and the fight continued. Going onto the 15th, and final, round all three judges had Frazier winning. Early in the round Frazier landed a left hook that sent Ali to the canvas. Ali, visibly shaken, got up at the count of four, and was able to stay on his feet for the rest of the round despite being hit by one last flurry of punches from Frazier. When the round was over the three judges made it official: Joe Frazier had won, retaining his heavyweight title.
Though Muhammad Ali would protest the decision, almost everyone agreed that Joe Frazier had clearly won the match. The boxers would square off two more times in 1974’s Super Fight II and the famed Thrilla in Manila in 1975, but those are for other threads