MUHAMMAD ALI remained on his stool and lifted his weary head to look across at the man with whom he had shared 41 gruelling give-and-take rounds.
Joe Frazier yearned to continue but his trainer, Eddie Futch, would not allow it. Frazier would never surrender, particularly against Ali, his hated enemy. But Futch had no choice. He recognised the rapid deterioration in Joe. He could hear his voice fading. He could see the mass of swollen skin that invaded his eroding eyesight and stopped him from seeing the punches coming.
But Ali did not celebrate. The winner slowly hauled himself to his feet, pulling at the ropes to muster the energy to do so, glad only to be alive. The greatest rivalry of them all was over.
Forty-five years have elapsed since that moment in Manila. Both men are now passed yet the ferocity they forged will never die. Somewhere up there, wherever the old enemies roam, that grudge remains.
Rivalries like the one shared by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are one in a million.
One might think of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in tennis, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in golf and maybe Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the basketball court. But when identifying the greatest rivalries in sporting history it’s hard to name one fiercer – or more engrossing, even after all this time – than the one crafted by Ali and Frazier.
Yet it was about more than the punches they exchanged. Brief allies when Ali was forced to give up his title in 1967 due to his refusal to join America’s war with Vietnam, the pair were cast as enemies upon Muhammad’s return three years later. In those three years, Frazier had taken the torch from Ali, almost begrudgingly so aware was he of the unfairness of his predecessor’s removal from the scene. But Ali – always the king marketeer – knew that friendship, particularly in the brutal world of boxing, was never a good sell. And so the rivalry was born between two men who were, in the world of prizefighting, made for each other. Together they stood atop the very best of all heavyweight divisions.
In a special bookazine – the first in a six-part series of boxing specials focusing on different subjects – we regale the tale through the eyes of Boxing News, the world’s oldest boxing magazine and an eye-witness to the whole saga. We reproduce articles, previews and reports alongside rare and beautiful photography. It’s interesting to note that, as late as 1971, we were still referring to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay – just as Joe Frazier did until his dying day. There was no greater insult in Ali’s eyes.
In addition to the original material, which provides truly fascinating insight into the rivalry as it happened, there are brand new interviews and features, and we review the fights all over again through fresh eyes. It should come as no surprise that the hellacious contests remain just as exciting, but they’re now undeniably more revealing than they were at the time.
There will never be another Muhammad Ali nor another Joe Frazier. The sport of boxing owes each of them a huge debt of gratitude, those two old friends who became eternal enemies.
Ali and Frazier, forever the greatest rivals in sport, we salute you.
The bookazine costs £7.99 and is in the shops now or can be purchased online here: https://shop.kelsey.co.uk/issue/View/issue/BXP001/issue-1