World heavyweight boxing champions, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, faced off in three iconic fights during their professional careers. Frazier held the world heavyweight champion title in 1970, and Ali held the title on 3 occasions, in 1964, 1967 and 1974. Ali was also named Fighter of the Year more than any other boxer in history.
Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to a middle class family in Kentucky. At the age of 12, his bicycle was stolen, and young Ali was visibly angry about it - he told the police officer he reported it to that he'd "whup whoever stole it." The officer, also a local boxing coach, suggested that Ali learn how to box before he looked for revenge, and took him under his tutelage before eventually sending him to boxing trainer Fred Stoner. In 1961 Ali began attending Nation of Islam (a black Muslim group) meetings in 1961 and converted to Islam. He remains a Muslim to this day. He married four times in his life, and currently lives with his fourth wife in Kentucky. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, shortly after which began the slow decline of his health.
Frazier was born as the 12th child to poor farm share family in rural South Carolina. His parents bought a black and white television, which first exposed Frazier to the boxing world. One night his uncle remarked that his stalky build would make him a good boxer, and the next day the young Frazier began training to fight. He went on to an amateur career from 1962-1964 with only one loss.
Professional Boxing Career
Ali's amateur career record was 100 wins and 5 losses, including winning the Light Heavyweight gold medal during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. His professional boxing career began in the second half of 1960. By 1964, he had a record of 19-0, but was still a heavy underdog in his championship fight against Sonny Liston. After just six rounds, he was named the heavyweight champion of the world. He was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for several years when he refused to be drafted into the army in 1967 on principle. But he was fighting again by 1971, and in 1974 he defeated George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire to reclaim the world title. In 1978 he became the only fighter to win the title for a third time when he defeated Leon Spinks.
Frazier’s professional career began with a 1965 fight against Woody Goss. Frazier won in the first round with a knockout, and won the other three fights he had that year with knockouts, none going further than the third round. When Ali’s title was stripped in 1967, Frazier refused to participate in the WBA alternate world championship fight to protest Ali’s title being stripped. In 1970, he defeated Jimmy Ellis in Madison Square Garden for the world championship. It took until 1973 for him to suffer his first defeat and lose the world title to the hands of George Foreman. When they fought again in 1976, Frazier had a record of 32-3.
Ali vs Frazier I: Fight of the Century
The first time Ali and Frazier fought was on March 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden, NYC. This was the famous Fight of the Century, also popularly know as The Fight, when the two undefeated heavyweight champions met for the first time. The event was a major worldwide media and sporting event. Ali was so far the undefeated heavyweight champion, but had his title stripped because of his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam war. In the meantime, Frazier had won two championship belts and unlike other contenders, was a very plausible threat to Ali's title. Frazier also had an edge in that he was 27 years old and at the peak of his abilities, while the 29-year-old Ali was just coming out of his exile from boxing.
The fight lasted 15 rounds. Ali dominated the first three rounds over the short-statured Frazier with rapier-like jabs that raised welts on the champion's face. Towards the very end of round three, Frazier connected with a powerful hook to Ali's jaw, snapping his head back. Frazier viciously attacked Ali's body as for the first time, the obviously hurt former champion covered up. Frazier began to dominate the following rounds with some tremendous blows, and while the tired Ali managed some good punches, he was unable to keep the pace he had set in the first third of the fight. His speed and combinations kept him on roughly even terms with Frazier, and the fight was very close until late in round 11. During that round Frazier caught Ali, backed into a corner, with a crushing left hook that almost floored Ali, sending him falling into the ropes. Ali managed to survive the round, but from then on Frazier was in control. At the end of round 14 Frazier held a lead on all three scorecards (by scores of 7-6-1, 10-4, and 8-6). Early in round 15, Frazier landed a spectacular left hook that put Ali on his back. Ali, his jaw swollen badly, got up from the blow and managed to stay on his feet for the rest of the round despite several terrific blows from Frazier. A few minutes later, it was official - Frazier, who had been trained to anticipate and tackle Ali’s right hand uppercut, had retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss.
Ali vs Frazier II
Ali vs Frazier II was a non-title fight held on January 28, 1974, again in Madison Square Garden, NYC. The fight garnered slightly less interest than their first meeting, as neither men were current world champions. However, Ali wanted to avenge his loss to Frazier in their first fight, and wanted to confront world title Heavyweight champion George Foreman, who had dethroned Frazier. The fight was scheduled for 12 rounds. During the review of round 11, Ali started trash talking and calling Frazier "ignorant" for mentioning the hospital (Frazier had spent a month in the hospital after the first fight). Frazier who stood up from his seat enraged, and squared up to a seated Ali, repeating, "Why you call me ignorant? How am I ignorant?" While Frazier was not looking at Ali as the studio crew and his entourage tried to calm him down, Ali held Frazier by the neck forcing him to sit down which broke out into a fight on the studio floor.
This called for a tense rematch in the ring, which Ali won by unanimous decision in 12 rounds.
Ali vs Frazier III: Thrilla in Manilla
Their third and final, billed the Thrilla in Manilla, took place on October 1st, 1975 at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Philippines. In temperatures approaching 100 degrees, the brutal fight played out over 14 rounds during which they took turns punishing and being punished. The fight ended because both of Frazier’s eyes were swollen shut and he was practically blind. He still wanted the fight to continue, but his trainer Eddie Futch decided to stop the fight fearing the worst. After the victory, Ali said the fight had been “the closest thing to dying that I know of.”
Ali is generally considered the greatest fighter in the history of boxing, and is one of the most celebrated sports in history. He defeated every top heavyweight in his era. He was a titular bearer of the Olympics flag in 2012; he had to be helped to his feet by his wife because of his Parkinson’s. He also made a mark with his refusal to participate in the Vietnam war on moral grounds, publicly stating that none of the Vietnamese had harmed him in any way, and there was no reason for him to harm them.
My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father... Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.
The video below shows Ali's stance on drafting during the Vietnam war.
Frazier’s legacy places him in the top tier of all time heavyweight fighters, and he’s often considered the 7th or 8th greatest boxer. Although he made millions of dollars during his professional career, mismanagement of his funds left him struggling financially as he aged. In his later years, he owned and managed a boxing gym in Philadelphia. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2011, and died a couple months later.
Awards and Honors
Some of Ali’s awards and accomplishments include six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two National Golden Gloves titles, the 1960 Olympic boxing gold medal, and three world heavyweight titles. He was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC. Ali was named Fighter of the Year more than any other boxer in history.
Frazier’s accomplishments include three National Golden Gloves titles, the 1964 Olympic heavyweight gold medal, and induction to the boxing hall of fame. He was named Fighter of the Year in 1967, 1970, and 1971. He held the world heavyweight champion title from 1970 to 1973.