CANASTOTA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — March 8, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable events in the sport’s history: The first heavyweight title fight between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.
NewsChannel 9’s Steve Infanti relived the event with Ed Brophy, the Executive Director of the Boxing Hall of Fame.
The date was March 8, 1971. The venue was Madison Square Garden. The main event was a boxing match, which would later come to be known as “The Fight of the Century.”
“It was a sell out at The Garden. Close circuit sell out. around the world, broadcasted on the radio. It was the event of sports,” Brophy said.
For the first time in history, two undefeated boxers would be meeting to determine the heavyweight champion of the world. Muhammed Ali, who was stripped of his title after refusing to enlist in the Army, up against Joe Frazier, the man who claimed the title during Ali’s layoff.
Brophy said, “Ali was flamboyent. He had the style. He had the words. He had the backup of being undefeated. Joe Frazier from Philidelphia was the rough, tough slugger. Undefeated.”
Two great boxers with two different styles from two different backgrounds helped produce one of the most hyped fights in history.
“Every star was at ringside. Celebrity stars. Everybody from white collar to blue collar, everybody gathered together, just one boxing fan when that bell rang for the first round of fifteen rounds,” Brophy said.
Ringside tickets were going for about $1,000 each by today’s calculations and the sellout crowd of 20,455 fans was treated to an instant classic that went the distance.
Brophy said, “One of those things you just never want to end because every round is great. But it was the 15th round, Joe Frazier punches Muhamad Ali with a hook. To this day, when people think of that great fight, there’s so many things to think about. But what stuck in their minds, in my mind, was when Joe Frazier hit him with that hook and Muhamad Ali goes down in the canvas in this ring sitting right behind me right on the far corner “
Frazier’s knock down sealed it. He won in a unanimous decision, handing Muhammed Ali the first loss of his pro career and in the process, producing a moment in time that the sports world will never forget.
Ali and Frzier would fight two more times in 1974 and 1975, with Ali winning both.
As for the special exhibit, the Boxing Hall of Fame has the program from that night on display, as well as tickets from the bout and other memorabilia. The actual ring that was used for the fight at Madison Square Garden is now on permanent display in Canastota.