Boxing was great back in the day. This was the greatest of the great, I think.
They called this the Fight of the Century. If you’re an oldster, it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that it’s referring to the last century. This century has its own problems and satisfactions. Back when this fight earned its name, referring to the “last century” meant you were talking about a century with Queen Victoria and the Civil War in it.
It was 1971. Both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were undefeated before they entered this particular ring. There were competing boxing crowns back then, so they both could beat everyone they faced without ever facing each other. There was added interest to this fight because the fighters were so different. Ali was a handsome loudmouth agitator gazelle, and Frazier was a hard-nosed lunchbucket brawler. Fight fans fell into two camps, and it felt like a boxing match between Kennedy and Nixon, in a way. The suave guy vs. the four-o-clock shadow dude.
Ali taunted Frazier before, during, and even after this fight. That was his thing. His long reach let him stay away from guys that could hurt him, and he’d goof around trying to enrage his opponents, who would flail away, get tired, and get knocked out when Ali stopped fooling around. Joe Frazier didn’t get the memo. Ali couldn’t hurt Frazier with his jabs. When Ali got tired, Frazier waded in, and lord, that left hook.
Ali would have to face George Foreman in 1974. George Foreman was Ali and Frazier stuffed into one man’s skin. Ali beat Foreman in 1974, in Zaire, in a fight he had next to no chance of winning. Ali won because he knew the blueprint for beating the unbeatable. Joe Frazier taught him how.