On This Day In 1970: Joe Frazier Smokes Jimmy Ellis To Become Ali’s Successor

By James Slater - 02/16/2024 - Comments

Rewind to the start of the 1970s, and the heavyweight waters were more than a little muddied. With the stripping of undefeated heavyweight king Muhammad Ali, this for draft evasion on religious grounds, the world needed a new heavyweight ruler. A tournament was set up to decide the WBA belt, while an unbeaten, snarling, hungry, mean left-hooker out of Philly named Joe Frazier tore apart Buster Mathis to claim the NYSAC heavyweight title.

Ellis, a former middleweight the great Angelo Dundee had rebuilt as a heavyweight, defeated Jerry Quarry to win the WBA version of the crown. Now, with the exiled Ali battling only in the courts, the two rival champions had no option other than to face one another. The vacant WBC title also on the line on February 16 of 1970, Frazier and Ellis fought inside an 18,000 full Madison Square Garden.

Frazier was unbeaten at 24-0, and “Smokin’ Joe” was 26 years old. Ellis was four years the older man and he was sporting a 27-5 record. But as a heavyweight, Ellis was unbeaten. The fight proved to be pretty short but at the same time pretty memorable. At least Frazier’s crushing performance was memorable.

After a close opening session, Frazier took over, his blend of aggression, power and desire seeing him dominate the action. Ellis, a fine boxer, and he was trying to keep Joe at range with his jab. But Frazier was relentless, his left hook finding its home in round three. Later in the round, Frazier sent Ellis spinning around with another sizzling left. Ellis was being beaten up.

In round four, Frazier’s key weapon again found its home, the mighty blow sending Ellis clattering down in his own corner. Bravely, Jimmy beat the count, but he was soon dropped heavily again, this time being put on his back. Ellis somehow beat the count and was up at “9,” but Dundee had seen enough, and he would not let his dazed fighter back out for the fifth.

Frazier was the new champ, but he and almost everyone else knew he would not be THE man until he beat Ali. “The Fight of the Century” was the most sought after fight in decades. Finally, it happened in March of 1971. But for now, Frazier, Ali, and the world’s fight fans had to wait to see who would emerge as the true undisputed heavyweight king.

Interestingly, Frazier and Ellis met again, in March of 1975, the non-title fight going down in Australia. Frazier again stopped Ellis, this time in the ninth round. It was Frazier’s last win.

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