Each month we look at Muhammad Ali’s fights in that particular month. This time we examine March where Ali lost to both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton – defeats he would later avenge in thrilling trilogies.
8 March 1971 – Joe Frazier, Madison Square Garden, New York City
Result: Frazier UD
On this date, two undefeated heavyweight champions collided in The Fight of the Century – an event that lived up to the enormous hype that preceded it. It was watched by 300 million people around the world and generated an estimated $20-plus million in revenue, with each participant receiving a re-cord $2.5 million purse.
Many fans still considered Muhammad Ali to be the legitimate champ be-cause he didn’t lose his title in the ring. Ali famously won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964 under his former name, Cassius Clay. Then, in 1967, Ali received a draft notice from the US Army, but he refused induction, and as a consequence stripped of the title and banned from boxing for three years.
Frazier then claimed the vacated title. The fight against Frazier was Ali’s third after his comeback, Ali had predicted Frazier would fall ‘in six rounds’, but for once it didn’t go as The Greatest predicted – Frazier won in 15 rounds via unanimous decision in one of the fiercest fights of all time dealing Ali his first professional loss.
Ali was best in the opening rounds, but Frazier dominated throughout from the fourth with his ‘kill the body, the head will die’-strategy. Ali even took the count after a left hook dropped him in the final round – it was only the third time Ali had been knocked down in his more than a 10-year long career.
New York Times wrote: ‘Joe Frazier broke the wings of the butterfly and sma-shed the stinger of the bee last night in winning a unanimous 15-round deci-sion over Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden’.
But Ali would get his revenge. The Fight of the Century was the first of the epic Ali-Frazier trilogy, followed by the Super Fight II (1974) and Thrilla in Manila (1975), both won by Ali.
13 March 1963 – Doug Jones, Madison Square Garden, New York
Result: Clay UD
Another tough fight for Ali in the month of March. Jones hurt Clay early and often in the first round, but by the middle rounds, Clay started using his po-werful jab and take the fight more seriously.
While the ringside judges gave Clay a narrow win, the majority of the crowd thought Jones had won and booed Clay.
Of 25 boxing writers at the Garden that night, 13 scored it for Jones, 10 favo-red Clay, and two called it even, according to Associated Press.
The disputed battle was named Fight of the Year 1963 by Ring Magazine.
22 March 1967 – Zora Folley, Madison Square Garden, New York
Result: Ali KO7
This would be Ali’s last boxing match before his suspension from boxing. Ali vs Folley was the first heavyweight title fight in 15 years at the Garden, and it was going to Ali’s last fight for three-and-a-half years.
Ali dropped Folley in the fourth round, and then knocked out Folley in the seventh with a right thrown with amazing quickness. “The knockdown punch was so fast that I never saw it,” said Folley.
29 March 1966, George Chuvalo, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto
Result: Ali UD
Muhammad Ali fought George Chuvalo twice. The first bout took place on March 29, 1966; and the second on May 1, 1972. Ali won both fights through unanimous decisions on points. ‘Canada’s Toughest Man’ Chuvalo was a worthy foe, and after the fight in 1966, Ali declared Chuvalo ‘the toughest guy I ever fought’. Chuvalo later remarked that after the 15-round slugfest he went dancing with his wife.
Chuvalo, a two-time world heavyweight title challenger, was never knocked down in his 93 bouts professional career which included fights against Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman.
31 March 1973 – Ken Norton, Sports Arena, San Diego
Result: Norton SD
The first fight of another legendary trilogy featuring Ali. Few gave relatively unknown Norton, a sparring partner of Joe Frazier, a chance to beat Ali, who
was attempting to climb back to championship form after losing to Joe Fra-zier in ‘The Fight of the Century’. Following the Frazier defeat, Ali had strung together 10 consecutive wins in less than two years.
It was clear, however, he took Norton for granted, while Norton had prepa-red for the fight of his life. In an interview years later with ESPN Radio Nor-ton said: “I felt at that time I could’ve beat Godzilla.”With his unorthodox style, he gave Ali serious problems and handed him his second career defeat.
Most reports have Norton breaking Ali’s jaw in the first or second round, but Norton disputed that claim, insisting that he didn’t break his jaw until the last round.
In the ESPN Radio interview from 2002, host Frank Lotierzo asks Norton about his relationship with The Greatest in and out of the ring decades after the trilogy.
Lotierzo: In your book, you say Ali is the best ever. Do you believe that?
Norton: As far as I’ve been around, yes.
Lotierzo: Is Ali the best fighter you ever fought?
Frank: You also say in your book that you and Ali are good friends today. Is it true that he was one of the first to come and see you in the hospital after your terrible car accident in 1986?
Norton: That’s very true.
Muhammad Ali fought three professional boxing matches against Ken Nor-ton between 1973 and 1976. As with Frazier, Ali won the series 2–1.
The Muhammad Ali Trophy:
The Muhammad Ali Trophy is also known as the Greatest Prize in Boxing and it is being awarded to the winner of each weight class of the World Boxing Super Series. Ali gave his blessings to the WBSS and agreed to give his name to its prize created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Ali Trophy winners:
Season I: Aleksandr Usyk (Cruiserweight), Callum Smith (Super-Middleweight)
Season II: Josh Taylor (Super-Lightweight), Naoya Inoue (Bantamweight), Mairis Briedis (Cruiserweight)