NEW YORK — They called it the Fight of the Century, and when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met for the first time a lot more was at stake than just the heavyweight title. Fifty years later, the fight still reigns undefeated not just as an event but as an iconic moment in time. As part of its coverage, The Associated Press is republishing verbatim its main Fight of the Century story from March 8, 1971:
By ED SCHUYLER JR.
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Machine-like Joe Frazier put on relentless pressure, knocked Muhammad Ali down in the 15th round and pounded out a unanimous 15-round decision to retain his world heavyweight championship Monday night.
Frazier, who took control of the fight in the 10th round, send Ali crashing to the canvas with a thunderous left hook in the 15th round that ballooned Ali’s right cheek to a grotesque shape.
It was all Ali could do to last the round as his remarkable comeback ended and Frazier gained universal recognition as the world’s premier fighter.
Ali was taken to a hospital and Bundini Brown, one of his handlers, said he had a broken jaw. It was not certain in what round it had happened.
Ali, going down to the first defeat of his professional career, had come back to take the 14th round with a flurry of head punches and charged out in the 15th with a bid to end it.
Then suddenly, Frazier’s hook flashed and the sellout Madison Square Garden crowd of more than 19,500 on hand for the world-wide televised fight went into a frenzy.
Ali got up at four and took referee Arthur Mercante’s mandatory eight count. Frazier landed several solid body and head punches as Ali reeled around the ring until the bell ended the fight.
There was little doubt who the winner was.
Mercante voted for the undefeated heavyweight king Frazier, eight rounds to six with one even. Artie Aidala voted for Frazier 9-6 and Bill Recht had the winner in front 11-4.
The Associated Press had Frazier the winner, 9-5-1.
Frazier’s great exhibition of endurance and his pressure punching display was the high point of an unbeaten 27-fight pro career which until this fight had always been overshadowed by the controversial Ali.
For Ali defeat foiled his bid to become the second man in history — Floyd Patterson was the only one — to win back the heavyweight championship.
Ali, however, had maintained he was still champion. Ali lost the crown outside the ring when he was stripped of it because of his conviction for refusing induction into the Army.
Ali fought in the courts for his right to fight again after a 3 ½ year exile, he came back to beat Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena and earn a shot at Frazier.
“Kill the body and the head dies,’’ Frazier had said before the fight and it was this plan he followed in handing Ali his first loss after 31 pro victories.
Frazier suffered a bloody nose and was badly swollen around both eyes but he kept coming, slamming his shots to the body and firing to the head more often than is his custom.
The constant pressure paid off for Frazier who won recognition from five states as heavyweight king by knocking out Buster Mathis in 11 rounds in 1968. He won universal recognition from boxing’s governing bodies by stopping Jimmy Ellis in five rounds in February 1970.
But he needed to beat Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, to attain full recognition from the public.
He did it in decisive fashion.
If the pattern of attack followed by the two fighters was what most observers expected, one thing happened that was not expected. It was Frazier who showed the most confidence, confidence to the point that he openly taunted Ali by dropping his hands to his sides and laughing at the deposed champion in the fifth round.
Frazier made no effort to win the round.
Although the 27-year-old Frazier, who weighed 205 ½ pounds to 215 for Ali, and the 29-year-old Ali were showing signs of weariness, the fight was close after nine rounds as Ali used his superior reach to spear the ever-incoming Frazier.
Then in the 10th round the fight, in which each fighter was guaranteed $2.5 million and promoters hoped would bring in $20 million to $30 million gross, began to change.
Frazier won the 10th by a narrow margin but then almost scored the 24th knockout of his career in the 11th. He hurt Ali with a smashing left hook to the head, drove him to the ropes with two more lefts and a right to the body and had him staggering around the ring.
Ali was clearly in trouble as he tottered to his corner at the end of the round, and the celebrity-laden throng that paid an indoor live record boxing gate of $1.25 million went wild.
Frazier kept up the pressure in the 12th and 13th rounds as Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, and his alter-ego Bundini Brown, pleaded with him to take charge.
He did in the 14th round.
But then came the 15th round, the round which told the story of the fight which ended one of the most incredible comeback attempts in sports history.
In Frazier’s command performance over the final six rounds, Mercante had it 4-1-1, Recht 5-1 and Aidala 4-2, all in his favor. The AP gave him five of the last six, with Ali getting the 14th.