Boxing rivalry unveiled: Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier

The boxing world has seen many rivalries over the years but few have been like the rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

The three-fight drama between boxing legends Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali would go on to define these fighters’ careers and lives both inside and outside of the ring, making it one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. What then became of their rivalry? What occurred during their arguments? How did the rivalry end, and who was their coach? 

The Rivalry: Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali’s rivalry has a rich history both inside and outside of the ring. Before their rivalry started, both men were well-known boxers across the country who were in the prime of their careers; in actuality, they were allies at first rather than rivals.


Beginning of the rivalry

Muhammad Ali was a legend in the boxing world prior to his rivalry with Frazier. He had won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1964 and an Olympic Gold medal for Team USA in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

But shortly after winning the championship, Ali became well-known across the country for his refusal to go to Vietnam when he was drafted in 1966. Ali refused to enlist in the American military, citing his Muslim faith as justification. As a result, he lost both his boxing licence and the title, which was ultimately taken by none other than Joe Frazier.

Frazier helps out Ali

Joe Frazier’s training in Philadelphia led to him being regarded as a real-life Rocky Balboa. He had won each of his ten debut fights via knockout at the time of his rivalry with Ali. But at first, Ali and Frazier were allies rather than rivals. Ali actively advocated for the restoration of his boxing licence during the suspension, and Frazier personally supported Ali in this fight. Ali and Frazier created excitement by pledging to fight for Frazier’s heavyweight title if Ali’s licence was reinstated. Frazier even went so far as to personally speak with President Richard Nixon on Ali’s behalf. 

Ali’s boxing licence restored

After Ali and Frazier successfully regained Ali’s licence in 1970, they promptly started organising what they dubbed “the Fight of the Century.” The men’s real rivalry started when it was time for battle, and Ali used it to his advantage by trash-talking and promising to win back the heavyweight title soon. When it was finally time for the two heavyweight boxers to square off, the tension that had been building up to the fight broke out.

Rivalry fights

The highly anticipated fight between two young, unbeaten boxers, Joe Frazier (26-0) and Muhammad Ali (31-0), would eventually grow into one of the biggest rivalries in boxing and the sports industry. During the first part of the 1970s, the boxers squared off three times, and each encounter is remembered as a landmark in boxing history.

  • First Fight: The first fight in the eventual trilogy between the fighters took place on March 8, 1971. One of the biggest sporting events of the year was the 1971 Madison Square Garden heavyweight championship match, which took place in New York City. Dubbed as “the Fight of the Century,” Frazier prevailed in the first match between the two legendary fighters. Frazier was proclaimed the winner via decision following a gruelling 15-round bout. Many believe that Frazier’s 15th-round knockout of Ali is what won this fight.
  • Second Fight: Madison Square Garden hosted the eagerly awaited “Super Fight II,” which pitted Ali against Frazier, once more, on January 28, 1974. Following the tremendous success of the first fight, the fans demanded a rematch, and in 1974 the boxers bowed to their demands. Once more, the excitement was justified when, prior to the bout, Ali made fun of Frazier’s injuries from the first fight. Things got personal from there. After a further 15-round battle, Ali prevailed in the rematch, setting up the trilogy’s climax.
  • Third Fight/Final Fight: On October 1, 1975, Ali and Frazier engaged in an epic final showdown. The bout, which had the boxers tied 1-1 head-to-head on the scorecard, was dubbed “Thrilla in Manila” because it was held in the Philippines, the country’s capital. The referees stopped the fight in the fourteenth round due to Frazier’s injuries, and Ali went on to win the third fight and the series between the two legends despite the heroic efforts of both fighters.

Fighters and their coaches

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, who is frequently referred to as the best fighter of all time, defeated Frazier in the series 2-1 and captured the gold medal for the United States in the 1960 Olympics. Ali and Frazier experienced periods of friendship and hostility following their rivalry due to the tension that grew between them during the competition. But before Frazier passed away in 2011, Ali and he managed to put their differences behind them and make amends. 2016 saw the death of Ali personally.

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier, a gold medallist at the 1964 Olympic Games, is a legendary boxer who was raised by a single-armed farmer in South Carolina. His will to win in the ring and his perseverance are legendary. Much of the hate speech Ali had directed at him during their rivalry had deeply wounded Frazier, and he had a tumultuous relationship with his former opponent for many years until they reconciled in the years leading up to Frazier’s death in 2011.

Angelo Dundee

Angelo Dundee, a renowned boxing trainer and former coach of Muhammad Ali, was present at the courtside for all three fights and had a close personal relationship with Ali.

Eddie Futch

Eddie Futch was Joe Frazier’s trainer and ringside coach. He is most known for having called off the third fight between Ali and Frazier, stating that it was too risky to go on because Ali’s fighter couldn’t see due to his injuries.


In conclusion, the epic rivalry between boxing icons Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier left an indelible mark on the sport and the lives of both fighters. Their trilogy of bouts, marked by intense competition and personal animosity, captivated audiences worldwide and solidified their places in boxing history. From the “Fight of the Century” to the dramatic conclusion in the “Thrilla in Manila,” each encounter showcased the skill, determination, and resilience of these two legends.

Beyond the ring, the rivalry between Ali and Frazier transcended sports, reflecting broader societal tensions and cultural shifts of the era. Despite the animosity that characterized much of their competition, both men ultimately found reconciliation in later years, recognizing the mutual respect and admiration that defined their relationship. As they faced the challenges of ageing and mortality, Ali and Frazier’s journey from adversaries to friends serves as a poignant reminder of the power of forgiveness and redemption in the face of adversity.

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