On this day in 1971: The Fight of the Century took place


March 8th marks the 45th anniversary of boxing great Mohammad Ali’s first loss as a professional boxer. Challenger Ali (31–0, 25 KOs), took on champion Joe Frazier (26–0, 23 KOs) at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. The fight was dubbed “Fight of the Century” by boxing writers and the media. The result of the fight was a win for Frazier by a unanimous decision in the 15th round.

The fight was the most anticipated heavyweight title encounter since Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling in their 1938 rematch at the Yankee Stadium.

It was a unique encounter because it was the first time in history that an unbeaten former heavyweight champion took on an unbeaten current champion. In 1971, both Fraizer and Ali had legitimate claims to the title of the World Heavyweight Champion. An undefeated Ali had won the title from Sonny Liston in Miami Beach in 1964; he had successfully defended his belt until it had been stripped from him by the boxing authorities for his refusal to be inducted into the armed forces. In his absence, Frazier garnered two championship belts and was recognized by boxing champions as the World Champions.

The fight also held broader meaning for many Americans, as Ali was still held in contempt by much of the country which had just emerged from the turbulent 1960’s, he was viewed as a brash, Muslim who embodied the spirit of the anti-war movement in America. In comparison, Frazier who read the Bible and liked to sing was held up as the blue-collar champion of the country.

During the fight, Ali dominated the first three rounds, but Frazier began to dominate in the fourth round, catching Ali with several of his famed left hooks and pinning him against the ropes to deliver tremendous body blows. By the end of round 14 Frazier held a lead on all three scorecards (by scores of 7–6–1, 10–4, and 8–6), in the beginning of Round 15, Frazier landed a spectacular left hook that put Ali on his back and a few minutes later the judges made it official: Frazier had retained the title with a unanimous decision.

Thus, Mohammed Ali was dealt his first ever professional loss. Highlights of the fight.

Scorecard for the fight

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