Ali & Frazier- More Than Boxing Rivals
36 years ago this month, rival ring masters Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier retired from professional boxing. Surprisingly, the prize fighting duo, whose mutual enmity was legendary, shared similar milestones and parallel lives that were overlooked or under-appreciated by fans.
Ali fought and lost his last bout on December 11th, 1981 against Canada’s Trevor Berbick. A week earlier, Frazier had closed out his fisticuff years with a draw against Floyd Cummings.
During their careers, the two pugilists met three times in the ring- 1971, 1974, 1975- in a boxing trilogy that was followed by millions around the world.
The first encounter, dubbed “The Fight of The Century”, saw Frazier claim the championship distance of 15 rounds with a unanimous decision; it was Ali’s first professional loss.
The next fight witnessed a more aggressive Ali unleash a barrage of punching flurries that served to avenge his initial loss. This time, it was “Smokin’ Joe” who suffered only his second professional defeat.
The Ali-Frazier fascination culminated in the epic “Thrilla in Manila” where the rhyming and ranting former Cassius Clay emerged winner in the 14th round. At the end of their boxing saga, Ali walked away with a 2-1 record over his opponent.
Between their fights and in later years, Ali and Frazier’s relationship would be defined by verbal jabs and open mockeries, punctuated by the occasional reconciliation and good will. All of this was voraciously consumed by the public.
On a 1974 ABC Wide World of Sports show, the men scuffled on stage following an argument. The display was as much a prefight promotion as it was the bubbling of raw feelings.
Twenty-two years later when Ali lit the flame at the 1996 Olympics, his hand violently shaking from Parkinson’s disease, Frazier remarked that he should have fallen into the cauldron and if he had the chance, he would have pushed him in himself.
Born Capricorns only 2 years apart, the young men grew up under the shadow of segregation in the 1950’s South- Ali in Kentucky, Frazier in South Carolina. They both had their own ways of dealing with the racism of the day.
The latter hopped on a bus as a 15-year old and headed north, settling in Philadelphia. The former became politically charged, then switched his religion and changed his name.
As teenagers, the glove-swinging athletes would lay claim to multiple amateur titles. Clay won 6 Kentucky Golden Gloves championships and Frazier took 1 Philadelphia and 3 Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves titles; Clay would also go on to win 2 national crowns.
Their amateur careers climaxed with the Olympics. Clay grabbed the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Four years later, Frazier followed with first place at the 1964 Games in Tokyo.
As their professional careers advanced, there wouldn’t be a single heavyweight who could outbox them both. Ali engaged in more fights and wrapped up his record with only 5 losses (56 wins); Frazier retired with only 4 losses (32 wins).
Settled in retirement, the celebrated fighters now watched their daughters take up the boxing mantle. In 2001, Laila Ali met Jackeline Frazier in the first pay-per-view boxing card to be headlined by women.
Laila defeated her counterpart with a majority decision in the 8th round; she closed out her career 24-0. Jackeline ran with only 15 professional fights and stepped out 13-1-1.
Jacqueline’s only loss? against the daughter of her father’s nemesis.
BASKETBALL November 28, 2009 The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 130-97 at Golden State. The Lakers would wrap up the season with a 57-25 record and go on to defend their title at the NBA Championship by overtaking the Boston Celtics 4-3. Kobe Bryant, star player on the Lakers roster, played all 7 games, averaging 28.6 ppg and taking home the MVP award.
BOXING November 20, 1999 Junior middleweight fighter Stephan Johnson fights Paul Vaden in Atlantic City for a $10,000 purse. Johnson is knocked out with two punches in the 10th round and falls immediately into a coma. Despite hospital efforts, he never recovers and dies less than three weeks later on December 7th. The 154-pounder who lived and trained in New York City turned pro in 1987.
FOOTBALL November 26, 1989 The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 43-40 to win the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup. Finishing only 9-9 for the season, the Roughriders were underdogs going into the 77th annual Grey Cup championship. With the game tied at 40-40 and only 9 seconds left in the 4th quarter, they clinched the title with a 26-yard field goal.
BASEBALL November 19, 1979 Nolan Ryan signs a record 4-year, $4.5 Million contract with the Houston Astros. The gifted pitcher who hurled consistent throws at 100 mph and above remained a force on the mound into his 40’s. Ryan started off with the NY Mets where he won the World Series in 1969 before moving on to the Angels, Astros and Rangers. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.