Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today In History: 'The Fight Of The Century'

Muhammad Ali dodges a hook thrown by Joe Frazier. Although Ali lost the match, he proved his stamina by standing through 15 rounds.
John Shearer/LIFE

Muhammad Ali dodges a hook thrown by Joe Frazier. Although Ali lost the match, he proved his stamina by standing through 15 rounds.

Via NPR Picture Show
by Claire O'Neill
March 8, 2011


Today, 40 years ago, there was a big event. The media called it "The Fight of the Century." In Life magazine, it was "The Battle Of Undefeated Champs."


After more than three years in forced retirement for refusing to fight in Vietnam, Muhammad Ali was back to contend in the world heavyweight championship. He was pitted against the reigning champ, Joe Frazier. And they were each, no matter what, to receive an unprecedented $2.5 million for entering the ring.


To honor the momentous fight, Life has published a gallery of photos, many never before seen, taken by John Shearer, who at the time was merely in his 20s. (Joining Shearer as a Life photographer at the fight was amateur photographer Frank Sinatra.)

In addition to shooting the fight, though, Shearer documented the two contenders in the time leading up to the fight: the media circus that surrounded them both; the outspoken — and sometimes unsportsmanlike — antipathy between them; even Ali's small gut (three years is a long time to go without a fight).

Those three years caught up with Ali in the last round, when Frazier received the title by a unanimous decision. Another three years later, though, Ali won the title back.



Muhammad Ali taunts Joe Frazier in  Pennsylvania at Frazier's training headquarters. Both Shearer's photos and the 1971 Life article portray the outspoken aggression between the fighters.
John Shearer/LIFE

Muhammad Ali taunts Joe Frazier in Pennsylvania at Frazier's training headquarters. Both Shearer's photos and the 1971 Life article portray the outspoken aggression between the fighters.


Ali, along with Puerto Rican light heavyweight Jose Torres (in  suit) and others, gather at legendary boxing promoter Chris  Dundee's gym in Miami Beach, Fla., in February 1971.
John Shearer
Ali, along with Puerto Rican light heavyweight Jose Torres (in suit) and others, gather at legendary boxing promoter Chris Dundee's gym in Miami Beach, Fla., in February 1971.