On This Day: George Foreman Knocked Down Muhammad Ali Conqueror Joe Frazier 6 Times to Become World Champion for the First Time

On January 22, 1973, the world of boxing welcomed a new heavyweight champion into its ranks. George Foreman walked into history as he defeated Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, and took home the WBC, WBA, and Ring belts. Yesterday, January 22, the fight celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

Many critics and pundits have termed the 1970s as the golden age of heavyweight boxing. The landscape featured some of the best fighters. Yet, perhaps the most commendable aspect was that the majority of them showed no hesitation in facing each other in the ring. The decade began on a somber note. After an absence of three years, Muhammad Ali returned to active boxing in 1970. In the meantime, Joe Frazier had already become the heavyweight champion. He further succeeded in thwarting Ali’s challenge in 71. But in the end, he faced one of the toughest tests of his boxing life.

Pre-Fight Settings:

Following Floyd Patterson‘s and Muhammad Ali’s example, Joe Frazier and George Foreman came out of a rigorous amateur program that saw them eventually receive Olympic gold medals. Frazier earned his in Tokyo in 1964. Four years later, in Mexico City, Foreman won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight division. Both embarked on their respective professional careers a year after the Olympic feats—Smokin’ Joe in 1965 and ‘Big’ George in 1969.

Five years after he started, Joe Frazier got his first shot at a world title. He faced Jimmy Ellis on February 16, 1970. The fight ended with Ellis retiring before the fifth round. Nine months later, ‘Smokin’ Joe knocked out Bib Foster in the second round during the first title defense. Four months later, on March 8, 1971, came ‘The Fight of the Century’. The match at the famed Madison Square Garden went the whole way. Muhammad Ali suffered his first career loss, with all the judges scoring unanimously in Frazier’s favor.

In 1972, Joe Frazier successfully defended his title against Terry Daniels and Ron Stander. His record before the Foreman fight was 29 wins against zero losses. George Foreman, on the other hand, had, since his professional debut, won 37 fights without suffering any losses. In between the years, he had won the North America Boxing Federation (NABF) and later the Pan American heavyweight titles. He was both the WBA and WBC’s top-ranked challenger to world titles.

Thus, the stage was now set for one of the most significant matches in the careers of both men.

Showdown in the Caribbean: George Foreman and Joe Frazier square up

The fifteen-round fight in Kingston’s National Stadium was over by the second round. Right from the word-go, George Foreman dominated Joe Frazier in the most ferocious manner. He knocked down the Beaufort, South Carolina-born world champion, not once but six times till the referee got convinced that Frazier couldn’t continue anymore.

A left hook followed by a combination of punches from George Foreman saw Joe Frazier touching the canvas for the first time. But the champion got up and resumed fighting. But soon it was becoming clear who controlled the reigns of the fight. As the round inched towards the bell, a right uppercut from ‘Big’ George had Frazier slamming to his knees, and then he went flat on the canvas.

Though he got up on his own, it was clear that Joe Frazier’s mind and body were speaking different languages. Another flurry of punches, mostly uppercuts from George Foreman, knocked down ‘Smokin’ Joe a third time. But the round bell thankfully came to the rescue.

Soon after the second round began, Frazier went down after receiving a right overhand punch from Foreman. Like in the first round, he got up. But things were looking pretty ominous for the world champion. As he closed in, he missed seeing the left hook from Foreman, which immediately connected and sent him down to the canvas for the fifth time. He got up again. ‘Big’ George pinned him against the ropes and pummeled him with punches. Finally, a powerful right did the job, sending Frazier down one final time.

The scene became a bit chaotic when Joe Frazier got up again. But it was clear that he had reached the end of the road. Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, who was sitting beside Howard Cossell screamed out for the fight to be stopped. However, Joe Frazier kept getting up and walking into Foreman out for the fight to be stopped. Thankfully, even referee Arthur Mercante Sr. appeared convinced that Joe Frazier should not continue and waived off his hands ending the bout once and for all.

Post-Fight and Retirement

At age 24, George Foreman became the third youngest boxer, after Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali, to become a heavyweight champion. He defended his titles twice before Muhammad Ali dislodged him the following year at the now-famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ on October 30, 1974. In 1977, Foreman hung up his gloves after another loss to Jimmy Young. But ten years later, he came back.

He resumed his career, becoming the oldest heavyweight champion in history when he defeated Michael Moorer in 1994. Three years later, George Foreman retired from the sport for good.

Joe Frazier, sadly, on the other hand, couldn’t regain his past glory. He lost the rematch with Muhammad Ali in 1974. The following year, Frazier made one last attempt at the world title. But unfortunately, he lost the trilogy fight with Ali, ‘The Thrilla In Manila’ on October 1, 1975. He and George Foreman were to meet for a rematch to stake a claim to the North American boxing federations’ titles.

However, the outcome was no different from their first meeting, with Frazier losing the match via technical knockout. He announced his retirement soon after. Five years later, he came to fight one last time.


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