Fight of the Century


August 20, 2022

The Fight of the Century was a boxing match that took place on March 8, 1971 in New York's Madison Square Garden in the United States between world champion Joe Frazier and challenger Muhammad Ali. The stake was the heavyweight world championship. For the first time in boxing history, there were two undefeated heavyweight world champions facing each other, as Ali had lost his championship in 1967 without losing a match after refusing to participate in the Vietnam War. The match lasted a full 15th round. Ali controlled the start of the fight with movement, but Frazier managed to take control of the fight in the middle and knock Ali to the canvas in the last round. Joe Frazier was declared the winner on points. Ali and Frazier met twice more after the Fight of the Century in matches known as Super Fight II and Thrilla in Manila. Their three-fight streak is widely regarded as a classic in boxing history.

Organizing and media attention

After Ali refused to go to war in 1967, his boxing license was revoked for almost 3 years. After Ali regained his license in 1970, he had defeated two easier opponents, Jerry Quarry in a three-round fight, and Oscar Bonavena, who lasted until the fifteenth round against Ali. Frazier, on the other hand, had become the undisputed world champion of both unions (WBA and WBC) after defeating Jimmy Ellis in the WBA championship match. Prior to this, he had held the NYSBC World Championship recognized by the WBC. After the fight between Frazier and Ellis, Muhammad Ali handed Frazier his WBC world title belt, having just announced his final retirement from the ring. However, he reversed his decision and it was decided to organize a match between the pair. The match between Ali and Frazier had already been planned before Ali's return was confirmed, when the choice of the venue was intended to circumvent his lack of a license. Possible match locations were looked for outside the United States, and a match on a plane was also suggested at some point. Both fighters were paid $2.5 million in match fees, considered unheard of at the time. For example, New York Post columnist Milton Gross described his surprise by stating that in the history of the entertainment world, "five million has never been paid for one night's work". This was the first time in boxing history that two undefeated heavyweight fighters met in a world championship match, and the match was prominently featured in the media. The struggle itself had a symbolic value for the people. Before the fight, Ali, who had not gone to the Vietnam War, emerged as a representative of the anti-war, young and black nation, while Frazier served as a symbol for conservatives, patriots and whites who defended the war. The challenger Ali influenced the birth of the confrontation by calling Frazier "Uncle Tuomo" (eng. Uncle Tom), which means a black who humiliates whites, and is one of the worst names a black person can use to insult another black person. In addition to "Uncle Tuomo", Ali said that Frazier is an easier opponent than Jerry Quarry and called him "uncivilized" and "gorilla". The personal attack was also noticed in the media. For example, New York Daily News journalist Dick Young condemned it as an attempt to "whitewash" Frazier. In the days leading up to the match, Ali's popularity grew and he was often surrounded by his admirers as he walked the streets of New York. To ensure the boxer's safety, the organizers of the match ordered the challenger to remain in his dressing room at Madison Square Garden throughout the day of the match, which, according to Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee, discouraged him. However, this was not visible on the outside, because in the medical examination before the match