March 8, 1971 - Two undefeated heavyweights stepped into the ring in Madison Square Garden in what was billed as "The Fight of the Century." Champion Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, who had been stripped of his title four years earlier for refusing induction into the military, each received record purses of $2.5 million.
The long awaited showdown was a social, political and athletic event rolled into one. Frank Sinatra was there, shooting photographs for Life.
Remarkably, the fight lived up to the hype. The heavyweights punched at a furious pace, with Frazier applying unrelenting pressure, and Ali answering with rapid combinations. It was a brutal 45 minutes of action.
Frazier showed the strength of a champion in the final five rounds, and decked Ali with a sweeping left hook in the 15th round. While Frazier left with a battered face from the hard jabs and the flashing rights of Ali, he also left with the unanimous decision in the first of their three fights.
"That man can sure take some punches," Frazier said. "I went to the country, back home, for some of the shots I hit him with."
Odds 'n' Ends
As a child, Frazier was nicknamed "Billy Boy" by his father, Rubin. The name came from a specific model of the Ford automobile.
Rubin lost his left hand and had part of his left forearm amputated
after a jealous acquaintance shot him over a former girlfriend.
The Frazier family owned a hog during their years in Beaufort County in South Carolina. One day, the hog chased after Joe, causing him to fall and break his left arm. For the rest of Frazier's life, the arm was crooked, and he lacked a full range of motion.
Upon moving to Philadelphia in his late teens, Frazier worked at a slaughterhouse. He once sliced off part of his left pinky finger with a butcher's knife. The skin had to be grafted back on.
Frazier was given his boxing nickname, "Smokin' Joe," by his trainer, Yank Durham.
In his 12th professional fight, against Oscar Bonavena, Frazier was knocked down for the first time in his career. Frazier won the 10-round bout by decision.
During his early years as a boxer, Frazier was part of a singing group called "Smokin' Joe and the Knockouts." At one time, he had a recording contract with Capitol Records and performed in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. After his retirement from boxing, Frazier then created "The Smokin' Joe Frazier Revue," an 11-piece group of musicians and dancers.
In 1969, Frazier and Muhammad Ali lived in Philadelphia at the same time. The Frazier family lived in Lafayette Hill, a suburb of the city, while Ali resided in a home on Philadelphia's Main Line.
Madison Square Garden approved 760 media credentials for the first Ali-Frazier fight in 1971 and had to turn down 500 more.
The fight sold out in a day. Millions more were made in theaters around the world via closed-circuit sales.
When Frazier fought Ali in the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975, the vision in his right eye was 20/50 and, because of the cataracts, 20/400 in his left eye, according to his eye doctor.
Frazier's son, Marvis, won the 1979 Golden Gloves heavyweight title. He reached the semifinals of the 1980 Olympic Trials.
Joe trained Marvis and after Marvis retired in 1988, he tried to make a champ of Joe Jr. But when Joe Jr. drifted into a life of crime and drugs, Joe withdrew almost completely from public life.
In the mid-1980s, Frazier and Florence, his wife of more than 20 years, divorced.
In 1996, Frazier was honored as one of the 100 greatest U.S. Olympians.
In June 2001, Frazier's daughter, Jacqui, lost a majority decision to Ali's daughter, Laila.