If humankind has learned nothing else from the Jersey Shore, and it hasn’t, it would be that fist fights don’t solve anything, but they sure are entertaining. And, if the cards are played well, said fights can be incredibly profitable for the people stupid enough to take a beating for a buck. And no beating has been more boisterous, more lucrative, more epic, than when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in the ring three times to battle it out for the Heavyweight Title.
Despite the previous crude comparison, Ali and Frazier were more than the latest reality TV grade celebrity, They were pop-culture icons, political lightning rods, and physically supreme beings with bodies sculpted by the Gods themselves. They were the rippled forgers of the boxing frenzy that was beginning in the very bowels of manly America. When Frazier and Ali were to fight, they were the highest paid athletes ever, each pocketing 2.5 million per fight (which today, after inflation, would be equivalent to a million billion dollars). Their heavy weight match-ups were so anticipated people were literally dying. Ok, they weren’t literally dying, but there were some small riots and probably an injury or two.
The high-pitched frenzy didn’t impact anyone more powerfully than Frazier and Ali themselves, who in the weeks leading up to the famous fights, talked more crap than a scatologist.
Ali, refused to sign up the the selective service in ‘68, and was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war. He was also a well known “black power” advocate, and personal friends with the controversial Malcolm X. His failure to comply with the draft, caused him to be stripped of his Heavyweight Championship title, and banned from boxing. With the unprecedented removal of his title, the boxing world was thrown into utter chaos, and thousands of grown men cried themselves to sleep without the solace of a Heavyweight Title Champion.
“Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, on the other hand, was significantly less anti-establishment. During Ali’s absence, he swooped in and won the title, though many didn’t consider him the true Champion because he never had fought Ali. Frazier called himself a proud patriotic and while he had supported Ali’s return to boxing, he carried himself with the proud seriousness of a Southern Gentleman. The favorite among older and more conservative fans, Joe Frazier was a glass of aged scotch amidst a sea of PBR.
Coming from two very different backgrounds, as well as being in very literal opposition, these two athletes exchanged some of the most bombastic name calling and game talking in sports history. Much of it stemming from the young and cocky Ali, who referred to Frazier as a “gorilla” on a regular schedule, usually following his daily bowl of Wheaties. He also called Frazier ignorant, ugly, and an Uncle Tom. Rest assured, none of that went over well with the mild mannered Frazier.
When the two finally met for their first match, dubbed “The Match of the Century,” in 1971, it was as climactic and ridiculous as was predicted. Frazier barely won in a split decision. But Ali won their second match, in what was by all accounts considered to be sort of lame, BUT they made up for it with their third and final tie breaking match; “The Thrilla in Manila.” Both men fought to the brink of death and back again and then turned around and did it again. It was a glorious sight to be seen. A sight now only available to the lucky few who have the patience to search for it on YouTube. It was bigger than the Jersey Shore. Bigger than Shawn White. Bigger than those mini burgers they serve at bars that are so overpriced. It was the stuff of legend. The stuff you could only understand if you’d lived it yourself. But you know what they say;
Those who can. Do.
Those who can’t. Teach.
And those who can, but just don’t really feel like it right now. Wear the awesome T-Shirt.