The ‘Fight of the Century’ was the second defence of the World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Association (WBA) World Heavyweight Titles by Joe Frazier, against Muhammad Ali, and took place at Madison Square Garden, New York City on March 8, 1971.
Ali, of course, had previously held the WBC and WBA titles, but was stripped of both in 1967, after refusing to be inducted into the US Army. Nevertheless, Ali remained unbeaten, with a career record of 31-0, and was still the lineal world heavyweight champion. After three years of inactivity, he had beaten Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena in late 1970 before turning his attention to Frazier, whom he predicted he would knock out in the sixth round. Frazier, 27, was two years younger than Ali and weighed in nearly 10lb lighter; he had achieved universal recognition when defeating former WBA World Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis at the same venue the previous February and, having successfully defended the both titles against Bob Foster at the Cobo Arena, Detroit nine months later, entered the ring with a career record of 26-0.
Ali chose to go toe-to-toe with Frazier and the unbeaten pair fought at a furious pace throughout. The predicted sixth-round knockout never materialised; in the eleventh round, Frazier rocked Ali with two left hooks, which sent him stumbling across the ring and, in the final round, landed another, knocking him to the canvas. Ali survived the round, but referee Arthur Mercante scored the fight 8-6 in favour of Frazier, while judges Artie Aidala and Bill Recht scored 9-6 and 11-4, respectively, to hand ‘Smokin’ Joe’ a unanimous decision.
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