Mar 8, 2011
I was 12 years old in 1971, and a rabid New York sports fan. The Yankees were in a deep free-fall in the standings, as were the football Giants. But the upstart Mets and Jets were coming off recent championships, the Knicks were still contenders, and the Rangers – well, they were the Rangers.
On March 8, 1971, New York was the center of the boxing world, when THE FIGHT – that was all you needed to call it - took place at Madison Square Garden. In this corner, the hard hitting defending world champion – “Smokin’” Joe Frazier. And in the other corner, the contender, in his third fight since a 3 ½ year layoff due to his refusal to take part in American military service, Muhammad Ali.
These were days before pay per view cable – heck, it was before I had cable at all – so I sat glued to the radio for delayed news of each round. By the time the 15th round came around, the fight was basically even, with Frazier ahead on points. Then came that defining moment – a left hook – that put Ali on the canvas, and lead to a unanimous decision for the defending champion Frazier.
The pair fought two more times – including the memorable “Thrilla in Manila” – but arguably this was the highlight of their rivalry.
Oscar Peterson wrote and recorded a memorable number for the pair, so this seems like a good time to bring out “Ali and Frazier”. It comes from a 1977 concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland, and features Peterson on piano, with an all-star band composed of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on saxophone, Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson on double bass and Bobby Durham on drums. Peterson won a Grammy for his performance on the album.