Muhammad Ali’s first fight of 1974 was scheduled for the 28th of January from Madison Square Garden. His opponent was Joe Frazier. “Smokin” Joe had claimed the heavyweight championship when Ali had been banned from the sport and Ali had failed to reclaim it during “The Fight Of the Century” in 1971.
A lot had passed since then. Frazier had spectacularly lost the belt against George Foreman, Ali had won 13 fights since then but had also witnessed only the second defeat of his career in a match against Ken Norton where his jaw was broken. For a lot of people this fight didn’t hold much value as for one neither was the heavyweight king so the championship was not on the line. Infact some critics went as far as saying that the fight was between two boxers who were already past their peak and the money required by the common viewer to watch the bout was simply not worth it.
Ali and Frazier still had a lot of bad blood brewing and it came out in a show where the pair were present to review the first fight as a promotion gimmick to hype the second bout. Ali taunted Frazier about spending more time in the hospital despite winning the fight. Frazier retorted that Ali was dumb, in return Ali called him ignorant which ignited Ali and the two engaged in a mini wrestling bout dragging each other to the floor. Both were fined for the incident.
The major selling point of the fight was that the winner was likely to get a title shot against Foreman and this resulted in a sellout crowd of 20,000+ flooding the arena. Ali started on the front foot hitting Frazier with persistent jabs. He hit him on the face in the second and Frazier was living upto his reputation of being a slow starter. The start was a replica of their first fight except that there was one major difference. Ali wasn’t going all out, he knew that Frazier was at his peak during the middle rounds and hence he wanted to conserve his energy. Ali was all good till the 7th round which belonged to Frazier. He came back with a series of strong lefts which continued in the 8th. That was that, Ali was back in control in the 9th and it was obvious that Frazier could never win on a points decision. He would need a knockout which never came. Ali dominated the fight and won via a unanimous points decision, and baring those 2 rounds it never looked that he was ever in trouble. He even found time to make jibes at the media to tell him from which angle was he boxing like a 32-year-old.
Frazier to his credit lasted till the end. He went for his traditional bursts of left punches but they rarely found the target and were too few and far in between. But he never gave up, and at the end of the bout the crowd apologized both the boxers, an acknowledgment of the fact that they had been delivered more than what they had expected from the fight. This was the first step in setting up the final bout between the three, but for now Ali was on his way to face George Foreman for the championship.