Ali vs. Frazier: The Fight of the Century Happened 40 Years Ago Today
You often hear people of a certain age waxing nostalgic about their youth and how they used to sneak a transistor radio under their pillow at bedtime so they could quietly listen to World Series games or Top 40 music. Well, I must be getting old, because I’m now about to be the nostalgia waxer.
It was a Saturday night 40 years today when, as a 13-year-old in New Jersey, I snuck my little radio into bed and tuned in to the New York City AM news station hoping to keep tabs on the night’s biggest sports story. Not just that night’s biggest, really, but one of the biggest in decades. When 26-0 Joe Frazier climbed into the Madison Square Garden boxing ring to defend his world heavyweight championship against 31-0 Muhammad Ali, the bout was rightfully billed as “The Fight of the Century.”
My mother and I were living with my grandparents at their two-bedroom house, and since I was too old to share a room with Mom, I’d moved in with my grandfather. He was a big boxing fan. It was his lifelong love of the sport, and his colorful stories of going to the Garden and Yankee Stadium to watch Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano fight, that got the juices flowing in me. I especially got a kick out of hearing him talk about former two-division world champ Mickey Walker, who hailed from the same Jersey town where my grandparents, my mom and I all were born, Elizabeth.
My grandfather didn’t care for Muhammad Ali, though. The fighter’s graceful dancing did not meld with the brawling, tough-guy style my grandfather favored. And that mouth! Even back when he was known as Cassius Clay, Ali was a guy who talked a good fight, and never mind that he could back up every single boastful word, my grandfather was no fan of the guy he called “Bigmouth.” He called Ali some much worse names than that over his refusal to serve in Vietnam, a rebellious move that got Ali banned from boxing for more than three years, his title stripped, and made it possible for two unbeaten championship-level fighters in their prime to be meeting in a New York ring. My grandfather had no interest in Ali vs. Frazier, though. I think he was convinced that Ali would win, and he didn’t want anything to do with it.
But I did. Clearly influenced by my grandfather, I didn’t like Ali, either. I did love Frazier, however, and I wasn’t about to wait until the morning to find out if he could beat Ali. So I went to bed with my little white plastic AM radio under my pillow. Because the fight was so big — and was being fought in New York City — the city’s popular all-news station had promised round-by-round updates.
The first few rounds, I remember, were all Ali, and then Frazier started coming on. The radio was providing just barebones details at the end of each round, but it was enough for me to paint pictures in my head. At some point, though, my head settled more heavily on the pillow. I fell asleep. Ali and Frazier were still fighting.
When I awoke in the morning, my radio was on the bedside table, switched off. Maybe my grandfather heard it in the middle of the night. I didn’t bother to turn it on, just ran downstairs to grab the Sunday Star-Ledger. And it was there that I learned about how the drama had unfolded during the well-named-in-this-instance championship rounds.
Here’s what happened, for all of us to relive:
It was 40 years ago today …
Follow Sports Pulse at Twitter
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook