By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
It was an event that shook the sports world on March 8, 1971.
Its reverberations can be felt 50 years later, not just in sports but in life in general.
We can all take some lessons from one segment of boxing post-1960 heyday.
“The Fight of the Century” between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden should always be remembered for how it shook and shaped the sports world over the next 50 years.
This was the sporting event of the year that topped the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA or Stanley Cup Finals. Any of those outlets didn’t have close to the kind of exposure they have today.
We should also remember how boxing once was a major player among the recognized four major sports.
In New York, the Mets were two years away from their miracle as were the Jets and Knicks. The Rangers were stoic and there would be a new team on Long Island the following year.
Ali had appearance of the slick the radical, who undertook the new uncovered trend of a Muslim lifestyle, reverting away from a lid named Cassius Clay from Louisville. A draft dodger as an American favorite? Can’t be.
Frazier was the epitome of the conservative, blue-collar working man, one who battled from the rigors of South Carolina into becoming a transplanted Philadelphian. He developed into a Philly icon with his gym situated in the northern end of the city.
Frazier’s 15-round victory would be the first of a classic trilogy that ended with the legendary “Thrilla in Manila.”
Yet, this wasn’t about the liberal vs. conservative showdown we would see today in the media. It was about highlighting two legends of their game.
It was about two, old-school gladiators depicting what sports should represent — respecting your opponents and utilizing every ounce of strength and sweat you have.
This was the last remaining years of an era where pro athletes and boxers were playing for the love of the game, as free agency and the day of the big contract was a few years away.
Even so, this was the pinnacle of sports events as each boxer was paid a then monstrous $2.5 million and the fight was viewed at 370 close-circuit outlets across the country and world. At MSG, celebrities and known public figures lined the aisles.
Ali-Frazier was just that. Fifteen rounds in a historic setting that couldn’t be matched. Howard Cosell on the call was as good as it gets.
It was pure competition that typified character, determination, and drudgery that formed the backbone of the country.
Boxing literally had its heavyweight card of the likes of heavyweights George Foreman, Ken Norton, Jerry Quarry, Bob Foster, Ron Lyle, and Jimmy Ellis along with lightweights Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez. In the sleepy town of Easton, PA, a young, aspiring heavyweight named Larry Holmes was ready to make the scene.
In the latter years and soon beyond, Sugar Ray Leonard, Riddick Bowe among others would surface before the Mike Tyson decade would begin.
At age 11, I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of the fight, and Ali’s greatness being a Frazier fan. Looking back now, I see its place in sports history and the major events of the period in question.
Boxing isn’t the same, and we won’t revert back to those glory days.
The epic battles between two major superstars are few and far between on today’s landscape.
Monday’s fiftieth anniversary of Ali-Frazier I should be a reminder to all of us on the role sports played in our lives.