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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 14:06 GMT
A rivalry for the ages
Ali and Frazier
Ali and Frazier would meet twice more
by BBC Sport Online's Sanjeev Shetty

If boxing needs a reminder of when it was truly great, it need look no further than the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which took place 30 years ago at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Such was the competitive instinct between the two fighters that they were to meet a further two times, culminating in the Thriller in Manila, where Ali finally subdued his man in a bout he later declared as the 'closest thing to death'.

But on 8 March 1971, it was to be Frazier who emerged victorious in a bout which was so full of hype, they simply called it 'The Fight'.

Ironically, as we reach the 30th anniversary of the bout, the rivalry between the two families has swelled again, with two of the fighters' daughters signed to fight in June.

  Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier
New York - 8 March 1971 - Frazier wins a 15 round unanimous decision
New York - 28 January 1974 - Ali wins 12 round decision
Manila - 1 October 1971 - Ali stops Frazier after 14 rounds

Yet it is unlikely that Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde will ever reach the heights of sporting drama that their fathers did.

Although there have been other intense boxing rivalries - Ali with Ken Norton, Sugar Ray Leonard with Roberto Duran and recently Evander Holyfield with Riddick Bowe - it remains rare for two men to engage in three fights as gruelling as those between Ali and Frazier.

They were bouts that almost certainly contributed to Ali's current weakened state, but cemented his legendary status.

Incredible as it seems, Ali's courage and durability were widely questioned before the first fight. But after he got up from a 15th round knockdown to finish a fight he had no chance of winning, few disputed his right to be accorded hero status.

For Frazier, this was his last great victory. He was later to be comprehensively beaten by George Foreman and he never got the better of Ali again.

But he never lost his intensity for battle and boxing experts consider that the Frazier that beat Ali would have been a match for any heavyweight champion that ever lived.

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