In 1971, I turned ten years old and discovered sports, not necessarily in that order. This was the year of both my first major league baseball game and my first college football game, and it was also the year of the Fight of the Century: Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier.
The Fight of the Century was how the first Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier match was billed, and even to my then nine-year-old ears, it sounded like nothing but hype. I remember having read stories about the fight a short time before it happened, complete with the backstory about Ali, as the Heavyweight champ who had given up his title in protest against the Vietnam War draft, against Frazier, the reigning champ. Both fighters were undefeated going into the fight, but clearly this fight was about more than just boxing.
By the late seventies, live boxing was common on network television, but in 1971 there was not even a thought of televising this fight live. To see the fight, boxing fans would need to go to a closed circuit telecast, usually held at a movie theater. More casual fans would simply read about the result in the paper the next day.
Neither of these options sounded right to my family, so we turned on KCBS, the all-news radio station, who broadcast round-by-round highlights as soon as the rounds were over, complete with scoring from AP and UPI. This is literally the only time I can remember us doing anything like that, but I guess the general interest in that fight merited it. It would be months before this fight was actually televised on a network, and by then it was old news.
It soon became apparent that we were all Ali fans, and we’d stay that way for as long as he kept fighting. But it wasn’t to be that night – Frazier won a (literally) hard-fought decision. The Fight of the Century name stuck, and it would be three more years until Ali reclaimed his title, a huge feat at the time, against a heavily favored and greatly feared George Foreman. Ali would fight Frazier two more times, winning both, culminating with the Thrilla in Manila in 1975.
I’ll often brag that we offer cool stuff here at Heritage. The gloves Ali wore in the first Frazier fight have to go right to the top of my list. From perhaps the first sporting event that I have a vivid memory of, a fight that will be remembered forever, and worn by The Greatest himself. What more, besides about a half million dollars, do you need?