Three years following Chapter One of their Trilogy in 1971, Muhammad Ali, the defeated challenger, and Joe Frazier, who remained the world heavyweight champion, went separate ways, the former wanting to recover lost time and the latter savoring his recent victory.
Ali, whose march to greatness was delayed by a three-and-a-half years suspension meted out for refusing military draft and his loss to Frazier in March that year, went global invading Zurich and Dublin in Europe and Tokyo and Jakarta in Asia, emerging victor in 10 of his 11 fights.
His lone defeat was dealt by Ken Norton, an ex-sparring partner of Frazier, on March 31, 1973 in San Diego which he avenged six months later on September 10 of the same year.
“Smokin” Joe, on the other hand, fought only four times, losing one to George Foreman via a second round stoppage on January 22, 1973 in Jamaica that, ironically, cost him his heavyweight crown which Ali failed to wrest in their brutal first meeting.
That loss to Norton came, reportedly, with Ali to blame. One of Ali’s man, Harold Conrad, swore he morning of the fight, he roused Ali from his bed with two women by his side. After the fight, Ali was sent to the hospital with a broken jaw.
Foreman, in dethroning Frazier, sent the defending champion kissing he canvas six times in the opening two rounds. It was later revealed that no one from among Joe’s men, trainer Eddie Futch included, wanted him to fight Big George because of the two fighters’ huge discrepancy in size. He insisted though.
As if losing his title wasn’t enough, Frazier lost, too, his long-time trainer Yank Durham to heart attack.
Yet, in spite of the many issues and unsavory developments that happened after the 1971 fight in New York, the second episode of the historic trilogy looked inevitable as Ali and Frazier looked ready to plunge into action against each other anew. The second serving was set January 28 with the Madison Square Garden again as venue. The 12-round rematch was a non-title bout and was received rather unenthusiastically by the usual boxing crowd owing to recent defeats suffered by the protagonists.
When fight night came, there was less expectancy in the big crowd, unlike in the first encounter when anyone who was anyone was there. There was the usual parade of celebrities, however, but sans popular actor-singer Frank Sinatra who watched the first fight besides taking pictures at ringside.
Referee Tony Perez, was to steal the show though with his sloppy and bungling manner of working the fight that proved disastrous to both fighters, Frazier in particular. Ali was in his traditional swift moving self, throwing punches with fluidity.
He drove Joe to the ropes in the second round with a barrage of lefts and rights as Frazier appeared in trouble. Perez, thinking the bell ending the round had sounded, stopped the action, giving Frazier time to recover.
Perez’s incompetence didn’t end there. He allowed Ali to hold Joe around his neck and hands repeatedly throughout the 12-round meeting, forcing Futch to yell at him at one time, “you gotta stop this,” to no avail. Frazier made a run in the eighth and ninth sensing Ali was tiring only to be stopped by Ali’s tactics.
By holding Joe every time he attack, Ali, with the help of Perez, never let Frazier unleash his touted arsenal leading many to comment later ‘it was a referee’s fight’.
“I don’t consider it a loss,” Futch told this writer and everybody who cared to listen one time during a lull in training while he and Frazier’s camp were already in Manila. “Neither does Joe, for certain. I watched and studied the film 10 times and, indeed, Perez placed Joe in irons for allowing Ali to hold him 133 times.”
Futch and Perez met later at a boxing dinner where the latter asked him for help in securing a Pennsylvania license. Futch told him: “I’ll oppose you. Whether you’re incompetent or dishonest, either way, we don’t want you in Pennsylvania.”