Boxing Day

Muhammad Ali Takes Joe Frazier in 14 Rounds (1975)

Muhammad Ali Takes Joe Frazier in 14 Rounds (1975)

No, it’s not December 26. At 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), I wish it were.

Martine and I reacted to the heat by going to the air-conditioned Paley Center for Media. While Martine watched 1950s sitcoms, I saw Muhammad Ali’s three bouts with Smokin’ Joe Frazier over a three-hour period:

  • The so-called Fight of the Century took place on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Frazier beat Ali in 15 rounds on a unanimous decision. Ali lost his world championship title as a result.
  • On January 24, 1974, Ali beat Frazier in 12 rounds on a unanimous decision. Neither were world champions at the time.
  • The “Thrilla in Manila” took place on October 1, 1975 in Quezon City in the Philippines. After 14 rounds, Ali, who was world heavyweight champion, hurt Frazier so badly that he was temporarily blinded, leading his trainer Eddie Futch to call the fight for Ali.

It was a grueling experience to see three fights between the same competitors one after the other, all with commentary by the grating Howard Cosell. At least, the Paley’s John H. Mitchell theater was well air conditioned, and the alternative would be to endure an altogether different sort of hell.

It was interesting to see Ali improve between the fights, starting from his clay-footed rope-seeking fighting style in the 1971 bout. Frazier stayed the same—always aggressive, bobbing, weaving, and left-hooking—but Ali developed new ways of meeting his challenge. Between the two of them, I was impressed by Frazier for his indomitable courage, and Ali for his intelligence and ability to adapt to different circumstances.


Muhammad Ali’s Long Journey

It’s Been a Long Journey

Somewhere Enroute, He Became a Beloved Hero

He was handsome. He was strong. He was a big time bad-ass. Cassius Clay seemed to flout all the standards of the world of the 1960s. Then, when he converted to Islam (influenced by another bad-ass: Malcolm X), the now Muhammad Ali seemed almost Satanic in his majesty.

Today, the same boxer who frightened us out of our wits died an old and much-beloved hero. He may have floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but he became ever more enlightened and benevolent as he aged. In 1996, he reached his apotheosis by lighting the Olympic Flame at the Atlanta games.

Although it was not unexpected, I am still broken up by Martine’s announcement of his death as I was on the last page of a biography of French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Somewhere along the line, we are all on the last page of the book of our own lives.