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EXCERPT | March 15, 1971
Ali Gets the Hook
A relentless Joe Frazier denied Muhammad Ali a title
On March 8, 1971, heavyweight champion Joe Frazier met former champ Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in a bout dubbed the Fight of the Century. It was Ali's third bout after an imposed layoff of more than 3½ years for his refusal to enter the Army. Mark Kram reported for SI.
He has always wanted the world as his audience, wanted the kind of attention that few men in history ever receive. So on Monday night it was his, all of it, the intense hate and love of his own nation, the singular concentration and concern of multitudes in every corner of the earth, all of it suddenly blowing across a squared patch of light like a relentless wind. It was his moment, one of the great stages of our time, and it is a matter of supreme irony that after all the years that went into constructing this truly special night, Muhammad Ali was in fact carefully securing the details for his own funereal end—in front of the millions he moved deeply.
The people, he said, would be in the streets of Africa and Asia waiting for word of what happened, and what they have heard—by now—is what they never will really believe. The sudden evil of Joe Frazier's left hook, Ali's bold effort to steal time by theatrics, his wicked early pace that left him later without any guns and his insistence on hooking with a hooker (a bad bit of business)—all of this combined to provide the push for his long, long fall from invincibility. It left Frazier at last the only heavyweight champion of the world and the survivor of one of the most destructive fights among big men in decades.
Frazier lost his title in January 1973, when he fell to George Foreman. Ali finally regained the crown in October 1974, beating Foreman in Zaire.
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