Muhammad Ali was sidelined for three-and-a-half long years brought about by his suspension for refusing to be drafted into the military. Such suspension was lifted in August 1970.
Two months later Ali climbed up the ring and knocked out Jerry Quarry in three rounds in Atlanta paving the way for his second fight since being reinstated this time against Oscar Bonavena in New York. He won via a 15th round technical knockout.
Ali used the Bonavena encounter to prove he still got what it takes to send anyone to dreamland or go the distance. He dropped the Argentinian three time (with photo) s in the pivotal round, a feat Joe Frazier failed to do in earlier two meetings leading him to entertain the thoughts that he was ready to face the then current champion, “Smokin Joe,” an old friend turned-arch enemy.
And so the first episode of the “Fights of the Century” trilogy between the finest and the best heavyweights of their era was on. The script of his triumphant return to claim the title easily, which to him was temporarily loaned to his rival in view of his force hibernation.
It didn’t work out that way though. Like him, Frazier was an undefeated champion who rose to his throne the hard way, enough to earn for him the respect of the entire pugilistic world.
Contrary to what Ali thought, the fight, held March 8, 1971 at the turned out a ‘you give me, I give you’ murderous encounter for the whole of 15 rounds to the delight of the standing room only crowd. Simply called “the Fight,” there was nothing simple about it – as shown by the endless articles, books and documentaries that have explored about it.
Both men were guaranteed $2.5 million each, which, in those times was the biggest. Anyone who was anyone was there. Even Frank Sinatra was at ringside taking pictures of the proceedings.
The defending champion put Ali down flat on his back with a brute of a left hook in the final round that proved the turning point of a unanimous decision by the three judges, one of whom turning in a lopsided 11-4 victory for Frazier.
After the fight, Ali landed in a hospital with a suspected broken jaw. While in the hospital, still dazed a disoriented, he told media men “Must have been a helluva fight, I’m so tired.” leading his audience to believe that his long layoff must have really sapped lot of his energy.
The speed in his legs and fists, his stamina could have, according to observers, finally deserted him. Ali, later on showed how wrong they were. The former titlist picked up from where he left.
He started knocking out all the top contenders one after another — Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis and Bob Foster. Britain’s Joe Bugner lasted the distance.
Frazier, by contrast, took it easy. Basking in the glory of his conquest of Ali, he scored uneventful fourth-round stoppage each over virtually unheard of Terry Daniels and Ron Stander in 1972.
Ali took advantage of the situation by repeatedly taunting his archenemy. The world wanted an Ali-Frazier 2!