On this day 45 long years ago, heavyweight greats Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in their anticipated rematch: “Super-Fight II.” A lot had happened since the first brutal, classic fight between the two bitter rivals. First of all, “Smokin’ Joe” had lost his crown to big underdog George Foreman, then, later on in 1973, Ali had his jaw broken by an even bigger underdog in Ken Norton, who won a split decision over “The Greatest.”
Now, almost three years after “The Fight Of The Century,” Ali, the number-one contender, had to get through Joe to both avenge his first pro loss (he had edged Kenny in a return clash later in ’73) and earn a shot at new king Foreman. A sold-out Madison Square Garden witnessed a far different fight to the first epic.
Ali, who had underestimated Frazier, and his fearsome left hook, ahead of fight-one, was now painfully aware of how good Joe was, how dangerous his key weapon was. Hurt and hurt bad on multiple occasions in the first fight, and even knocked down in the fifteenth and final round, Ali’s jaw ballooned and he had to join Joe in the hospital. It was a brutal, damaging fight, and many fans and experts wondered if either man could ever possibly be the same after the war.
Going into the rematch, people wondered who had more left – Ali or Joe. As it turned out, Ali switched tactics to the extent that it was no battle of attrition, no case of who wanted it more. Ali, smarter than Joe, tied his man up, held him constantly behind the neck – Eddie Futch actually counted how many times Ali fouled his fighter, and complained bitterly to referee Tony Perez, to no avail (Perez later said that as long as Ali was not holding AND hitting, he was committing no foul) – and defused his lethal left by keeping a tight hold of it whenever the two were in close.
It worked and, with some brief flurries of his old magic, some dancing (Ali’s legs were still there) and some bursts of rapid punches, the 32 year old got his revenge over the man two years his junior. It was pretty close on the cards, with third man/scoring judge Perez having it 6-5 with 1 even for Ali, but Ali had done enough. But would he stand a chance with the ferocious Foreman?
We had to wait nine months for the answer but when it came Ali, once again switching tactics to suit the man he was fighting, shocked the world and regained his title. A stunned Frazier was sat at ringside in Zaire.
Ali and Frazier would of course meet again, in their rubber-match of 1975, and it was the costliest battle of the three in terms of the long-term health of both greats. But if Perez had not had his little mishap in round-two of Ali-Frazier II, might we not have seen the third fight? As fans may recall, or have seen, Ali stunned Frazier with a straight right late in the round, sending his adversary wobbling to the ropes. Perez, thinking he either heard the bell or, he said later, someone shouting “bell,” dived in and separated the two men, believing the round had indeed ended. Joe, hurt no doubt, received around ten seconds in which to recover. Would Ali have stopped Frazier if Perez hadn’t messed up? Maybe. Not probably, considering the fact that in 41 rounds of fighting Ali never once managed to put Joe on the deck, but maybe. And if the history books read: ‘Muhammad Ali TKO2 Joe Frazier,’ chances are big there would have been no third fight; there would have been no real need for it. How different heavyweight history would have been.