By Victor Cota
Today, it is the 49th anniversary commemorating “Battle of the Century”
It was the first of three epic, monumental and forever memorable encounters between “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier.
It came to pass at the fourth Madison Square Garden in New York on March 8, 1971 and at that time it shattered records for global numbers of television viewers.
This fight was promoted by Californian tycoon Jerry Perenchio, a businessman, philanthropist and art collector according to his biographers. He was also CEO of Univision from 1992 to 2007. And if that wasn’t enough, the fortune of this extraordinary man at that time was estimated at 26 billion dollars.
The fight was broadcast from ringside in 12 different tongues…a linguistic first. A staggering 300 million people witnessed the fight through television, whose rights were bought by 50 countries.
Many celebrities attended: Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Frank Sinatra, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby, Gene Fullmer, Jack Sharkey, Joe Giardello, Emile Griffith, George Foreman, Joe Louis, Gene Tunney, Dick Tiger, Billy Conn, Rocky Graziano, Oscar Bonavena and the Sugar Ray Robinson phenomenon.
Two spectators with paid tickets passed away inside the Garden due to heart attacks during the match. Also, several more deaths were reported in front of the television from Milan and Kuala Lumpur.
The Referee on that fabled starry night was Arthur Mercante. Artie Aidala and Bill Retch were Judges. The Announcer was Johnnie Addie. The WBC heavyweight title was at stake. Joe Frazier had a 26-0 record with 23 knockouts; while Ali has a 31-0 record, with 26 knockouts.
Ali was dropped for the first time in his career in round 15, curt courtesy of a humongous left hook from Joe. It was also the first defeat of his career.
The influential and important news agency the Associated Press gave its score in favor of Joe Frazier, while the United Press International scored it as a draw.
Each of the two fighters received a check for two and a half million dollars, the maximum pay for a boxer up to that night.
The magazine “Life” published photographs shot by Frank Sinatra, the artist Leroy Neiman painted a battle scene, while Hollywood actor Burt Lancaster shaped what they call “color comments” for the closed circuit television.
Bernard Picot, of the AP Agency, wrote that the 35 million dollars of profits for the organizers, caused the envy of executives of several companies quoted on Wall Street. Another reporter from the same agency commented that this fight was the greatest economic impact sporting event of all time. While France Press agency, published that more than one billion dollars changed hands on the stock market, due to bets.
Was it a truly great fight? You betcha!