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The fights that made the greatest - volume 2, “The rumble in the Jungle,” Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman.

Muhammad Ali


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Today we will be continuing our “fights that made the greatest series”, taking an in depth look at the one of the greatest rivalries in the history of boxing, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. We’ll be covering: both fighters journey to the fights, an in-depth round by round breakdown of all 3 and the subsequent aftermath for both warriors. Without further ado, lets get started…

Smokin’ Joe

In the pantheon of boxing legends, Joe Frazier's name is etched in gold. Renowned for his relentless power, unbreakable resolve, and the iconic left hook, Frazier's ascent from the humble fields of South Carolina to the zenith of heavyweight boxing epitomises the essence of perseverance and grit.

Humble Origins to Boxing Royalty

The Early Years: Born on January 12, 1944, in Beaufort, South Carolina, Joe Frazier's life story began in the throes of the rural South's challenges. As the twelfth child in a family grappling with the harsh realities of poverty and segregation, Frazier's early experiences were shaped by adversity. However, it was within this crucible of hardship that Frazier's fighting spirit was forged.

A Fighter is Born: Frazier's boxing journey commenced with a makeshift punching bag beneath an oak tree, symbolising the genesis of a dream fuelled by determination and raw talent. This early dedication set the foundation for Frazier's boxing ethos, characterised by resilience and a relentless work ethic.

Rise Through the Amateur Ranks

Golden Gloves Glory: Frazier quickly transcended his humble beginnings, making a name for himself in the Golden Gloves circuit. His dominance in the ring was evident, securing the heavyweight title three years in a row from 1962 to 1964. This impressive streak showcased Frazier's burgeoning prowess and set the stage for his international debut.

Olympic Triumph: The 1964 Tokyo Olympics marked a pivotal moment in Frazier's amateur career. Despite a severe thumb injury, Frazier's unyielding spirit shone through. His triumphant journey through the Olympics, culminating in a gold medal victory, solidified Frazier's reputation as a formidable force in the boxing world.

Professional ranks: Joe Frazier's transition to professional boxing in 1965 marked the beginning of an illustrious career that quickly established him as a powerhouse in the heavyweight division. From the outset, Frazier's performances in the ring were a testament to his incredible strength and refined technique. His commitment to excellence and his signature left hook propelled him swiftly up the ranks, positioning him as a top contender in the world of heavyweight boxing.

The year 1968 was a standout in Frazier's early professional journey, as he delivered knockout victories in all 11 of his matches. This streak of triumphs led him to a pivotal bout against Buster Mathis, a match initially slated for the Olympic trials. Frazier's prowess was on full display as he clinched the victory with a knockout in the 11th round, earning the New York State World Heavyweight Title. This win was more than just a title; it was a stepping stone towards global recognition in the boxing community.

The zenith of Frazier's career before his legendary encounters with Muhammad Ali came on February 16, 1970, in a highly anticipated match against Jimmy Ellis. The battle for the undisputed heavyweight championship was fierce, but Frazier's dominance was undeniable. Securing a TKO victory in the fifth round, Frazier not only claimed the title of undisputed heavyweight champion but also set the stage for a historic showdown with Muhammad Ali. This victory was a defining moment in Frazier's career, cementing his legacy in boxing and building anticipation for one of the sport's most epic rivalries.

The King returns

Muhammad Ali's reentry into the boxing world on October 26, 1970, against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, marked the end of his three-and-a-half-year absence, a hiatus stemming from his stance against the military draft. In this comeback fight, Ali's legendary agility and speed were unmistakable. His ability to "float like a butterfly" captivated the audience as he navigated the ring with ease, landing swift and precise jabs on Quarry. The match was cut short in the third round due to a severe cut Quarry sustained, granting Ali a victory by technical knockout.

The next hurdle for Ali was Oscar Bonavena, a match at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 1970. Bonavena, known for his toughness and formidable punching power, presented a stark contrast to Ali's style. This bout stretched to a grueling 15 rounds, showcasing Ali's ability to persevere and adapt against an opponent who brought relentless pressure and an unconventional fighting style. The climax of this intense match came in the 15th round when Ali unleashed a flurry of powerful punches, resulting in three knockdowns of Bonavena and a stoppage by the referee.

These victories set the stage for the highly anticipated showdown with Joe Frazier. Opinions on the upcoming bout were divided. While Ali's recent wins had reasserted his dominance in the heavyweight category, there were reservations about his slightly reduced speed and increased vulnerability. On the other hand, Frazier's consistent power and feared left hook posed a significant threat. The boxing community was abuzz with predictions, with some backing Frazier's knockout capabilities and others placing their bets on Ali's strategic ingenuity and ring mastery. As both fighters prepared, in peak condition, the buildup to their encounter became a crescendo of anticipation, promising one of the most legendary matchups in the annals of boxing history.

The build up

The lead-up to the iconic showdown was a spectacle of strategic promotion, mental duels, and captivating narratives. Ali, ever the master of mind games, coined the moniker "The Gorilla" for Frazier, using his wit to undermine his opponent's image. Among Ali's memorable taunts was the claim, "Frazier is too ugly to be champ! The world champ should be pretty like me!" Despite Ali's verbal jabs, “Smokin’ Joe” remained unfazed, countering with a resolve that reflected his toughness, "I don’t want to knock him out. I want to hit him, step away, and watch him hurt. I want his heart."

The epic encounter between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali was more than a test of physical prowess; it was also a chess match orchestrated by two of boxing's most esteemed trainers: Eddie Futch for Frazier and Angelo Dundee for Ali. The strategic ingenuity of Futch and Dundee was crucial, with both camps meticulously planning to exploit the other's weaknesses.

Eddie Futch's Strategic Vision for Frazier

Eddie Futch, celebrated for his strategic acumen, tailored a plan that played to Frazier's strengths: unyielding aggression, powerful body shots, and a lethal left hook. Aware of Ali's edge in speed and reach, Futch's strategy was to have Frazier close in on Ali, pinning him against the ropes, and focus on body shots to diminish Ali's mobility.

Angelo Dundee's Tactical Approach for Ali

In response, Angelo Dundee, renowned for his sharp tactical mind, devised a plan that highlighted Ali's unique assets: unparalleled speed, agility, and tactical thinking. Dundee aimed to leverage Ali's reach and footwork to maintain distance from Frazier, ensuring Ali could strike effectively while staying out of Frazier's most dangerous range.

“The fight of the century”

On March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden was the epicentre of the boxing world as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared off in a bout that was aptly named the "Fight of the Century." Both undefeated, Ali aimed to reclaim the heavyweight crown, while Frazier sought to cement his legacy. The battle was a showcase of contrasting styles, indomitable spirits, and boxing excellence, captivating audiences round by round.

Round by Round Breakdown

Round 1: The bout commenced with Ali leveraging his reach, delivering swift jabs to keep Frazier at a distance. Ali's footwork was exemplary, but Frazier was determined, seeking opportunities to unleash his famed left hook.

Round 2: Frazier began to impose his game plan, pressuring Ali and aiming to cut off the ring. Despite Ali's effective jabs, Frazier's body shots started to make their mark, signalling his presence in the fight.

Round 3: Ali, wary of Frazier's power, adopted a hit-and-move tactic, landing punches before swiftly evading Frazier's counters. Frazier managed to corner Ali briefly, delivering potent body shots.

Round 4: Ali showcased his hand speed, hitting Frazier with rapid combinations. Yet, Frazier's resilience shone through, as he continued to advance, landing significant hooks.

Round 5: The tide seemed to turn as Frazier's pressure started to wear on Ali, who found himself on the ropes more frequently, allowing Frazier to land impactful body shots.

Round 6: Ali bounced back, utilising his jab and mobility to dictate the pace, marking a strong showing with precise headshots.

Round 7: Frazier relentlessly pursued Ali, who used the ropes to his advantage, countering Frazier's advances with strategic punches.

Round 8: Signs of fatigue appeared in Ali, with Frazier capitalising by landing more frequent and forceful blows, especially when Ali was on the ropes.

Round 9: Frazier's power surged, landing his trademark left hooks, though Ali continued to counter with bursts of punches.

Round 10: In a closely contested round, both heavyweights exchanged powerful shots, with Ali's straight rights and Frazier's body shots highlighting the action.

Round 11: Frazier maintained his aggressive approach, with Ali countering effectively, making the round tough to score.

Round 12: Ali showcased resilience, landing clean combinations and using his jab effectively to control the round's rhythm.

Round 13: The intensity peaked, with both fighters landing significant blows. Ali's combination punching and mobility were countered by Frazier's aggression and power.

Round 14: Frazier's relentless pressure persisted, with Ali responding with jabs and combinations, despite Frazier landing several powerful shots.

Round 15: The climax of the fight saw Frazier land a monumental left hook, knocking Ali down. Ali rose to finish the round, but the impact was made.


The judges unanimously favoured Joe Frazier, marking Ali's first professional defeat. The bout was a testament to Frazier's unyielding pressure, durability, and power. Ali's skill, speed, and resilience were evident, but the night belonged to Frazier. This historic clash remains a defining moment in their legacies and a golden chapter in heavyweight boxing history.


Following Joe Frazier's decisive victory, the boxing community was left reeling. Muhammad Ali, the dynamic and vocal former titleholder, had faced his first defeat in the professional arena. The epic showdown extracted a heavy price from both warriors, leaving them to contend with significant physical and emotional repercussions. Frazier found himself hospitalised, grappling with kidney issues and elevated blood pressure, while Ali nursed a severely swollen jaw.

Reactions from fans and the press were polarised. Many heralded Frazier's win as a confirmation of his rightful place at the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing, whereas others continued to champion Ali as the true people's champion, unfairly deprived of his title. This landmark battle further fuelled the ongoing debate regarding the legitimate heavyweight champion, laying the groundwork for a rivalry that would become legendary in the annals of boxing history. This narrative will next explore Ali's journey back into contention, Frazier's tenure at the top, and the evolving dynamics leading up to their highly anticipated rematch.

The rematch

The anticipation for a rematch between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali was palpable from the moment their first epic battle concluded. However, the path to their second face-off was fraught with hurdles, including Ali's unexpected loss to Ken Norton and Frazier's stunning defeat at the hands of George Foreman. As Ali clawed his way back to becoming the top contender, Frazier was on a mission to redeem his stature after relinquishing his title. The verbal jousting resumed in full force as the rematch loomed, with Ali, ever the master of psychological warfare, unleashing a barrage of taunts aimed at Frazier. In contrast, Frazier's responses were measured yet poignant, reflecting his intent not just through words but through his rigorous preparation.

Ali's rhetoric was as flamboyant as ever, declaring, "Joe Frazier brings out the best in me. He's a formidable man, but I must school him." Frazier retorted with a quiet intensity, "Enough of Ali's talk. It's time to silence him for good."

In-Depth Round-by-Round Recap

Round 1: Ali established his jab from the get-go, maintaining a strategic distance. His agility was evident as he circled Frazier, who struggled to bridge the gap and deploy his feared hooks.

Round 2: Building on his initial strategy, Ali mixed in combinations, showcasing a more aggressive stance than in their previous encounter. Frazier managed to land body shots but was largely kept at bay by Ali's commanding jab.

Round 3: Gaining momentum, Frazier began to close in, targeting Ali's torso with vigor. Ali's strategic clinching helped him stall Frazier's surges, a tactic that became a recurring theme in the bout.

Round 4: The action intensified, with Ali landing precise combos, while Frazier, undaunted, pressed on, aiming his hooks at Ali's body and head with increased ferocity.

Round 5: Ali's taunts escalated in an attempt to unsettle Frazier, who remained laser-focused, landing potent blows that briefly hampered Ali's rhythm.

Round 6: Signs of fatigue emerged as the high-octane pace took its toll. Ali opted for a more measured approach, leveraging the ring to manage the distance, while Frazier's aggression, though persistent, was tempered by Ali's tactical clinching and mobility.

Round 7: Ali's counterpunching shone as Frazier advanced, with the jab continuing to pave the way for more potent strikes. Frazier's moments against the ropes allowed him to unleash body flurries.

Round 8: The exchange of heavy hits peaked, with Ali delivering impactful uppercuts and rights. Frazier's resilience was evident as he absorbed and retaliated, focusing on body shots.

Round 9: The chess match persisted, with Ali exploiting his reach and speed to maintain control, while Frazier's relentless pursuit was somewhat stifled by Ali's defensive clinching.

Round 10: Ali's strategic clinching became more pronounced, aiming to disrupt Frazier's inside game. Frazier's frustration was palpable, though he managed to connect with several impactful hits.

Round 11: Ali's blend of jabs and quick-fire combos dictated the round's tempo, curtailing Frazier's attempts to dominate the close quarters.

Round 12: With the final round underway, both warriors sought to cement their supremacy. Ali's hit-and-move strategy contrasted with Frazier's all-out offensive, but Ali's evasive manoeuvres and clinches diluted Frazier's efforts.


The bout's conclusion left some ringside spectators speculating a Frazier victory. Nonetheless, the judges unanimously sided with Ali, granting him a redemptive win and propelling him back into the heavyweight championship conversation. This victory marked a pivotal moment for Ali, reestablishing his claim to boxing royalty. For Frazier, the defeat was a blow but not a spirit crusher. His indomitable spirit saw him regroup, focusing on strategic enhancements and conditioning, poised to reclaim his place among the heavyweight elite.

Prelude to the "Thrilla in Manila"

In the lead-up to their iconic third showdown, the "Thrilla in Manila," Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier embarked on different paths. Ali faced a lineup of formidable opponents across six bouts, securing victories in each. His notable triumphs included rematches against Ken Norton and Joe Bugner, victories over Rudi Lubbers, Chuck Wepner, and Ron Lyle, and a historic win against George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle," a fight that remains etched in boxing lore as one of the sport's most monumental moments. Conversely, Joe Frazier also stepped into the ring against notable adversaries, including Jerry Quarry and Joe Bugner, as he continued to cement his legacy in the boxing world.

The selection of Manila, Philippines, as the battleground for this legendary encounter added an exotic flair and global appeal, drawing attention from around the world. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos viewed the event as an opportunity to shift the global focus towards the Philippines, momentarily away from the nation's internal strife. Promoter Don King leveraged the global fascination with the Ali-Frazier saga and the allure of an exotic locale to generate unparalleled excitement for this bout.

Round-by-Round Recap

Rounds 1-4: The Opening Rounds

The battle commenced with Ali exploiting his reach, landing swift jabs to maintain distance from Frazier. Ali aimed to exhaust Frazier, implementing his "rope-a-dope" strategy to conserve energy and wear down his opponent.

Rounds 5-8: Frazier's Comeback:

In these middle rounds, Frazier began to bridge the gap, delivering powerful shots to Ali's body. The momentum appeared to shift as Frazier's persistent aggression started to drain Ali's reserves.

Rounds 9-12: Shifting Momentum:

With the fight intensifying, Ali accelerated his pace, unleashing quick combinations to regain control. The stifling heat and relentless pace began to impact Frazier, showing signs of fatigue.

Rounds 13-14: The Climactic Rounds:

By the 13th round, exhaustion had set in for both warriors, but Ali tapped into his remaining strength, bombarding Frazier with a barrage of punches that left him staggered and vulnerable.

Round 15: The Epic Conclusion:

As the final round loomed, Frazier's corner, recognising the toll the fight had taken on him, decided to halt the contest. Ali was declared the victor in a dramatic finale to an epic saga, later acknowledging Frazier's formidable challenge by stating, "He is the greatest fighter of all times, next to me."

In the aftermath of the gruelling "Thrilla in Manila," both Ali and Frazier were visibly spent but maintained a mutual respect, reflecting on the intensity of their rivalry and the respect they held for each other's prowess inside the ring. Their post-fight reflections encapsulated the spirit of their historic trilogy and the indelible mark it left on the world of boxing.

Muhammad Ali Quotes

"Frazier quit just before I did. I didn't think I could fight anymore." This quote reflects the sheer exhaustion Ali felt during the fight, highlighting the extreme physical toll the bout took on both men.

"He is the greatest fighter of all times, next to me." Even amidst their rivalry, Ali acknowledged Frazier's skill and heart, placing him among the pantheon of great fighters.

“This is the closest to dying I've ever been." Ali's words capture the brutal nature of the fight and how it pushed him to the limits of his endurance.

Joe Frazier Quotes

Man, I hit him with punches that'd bring down the walls of a city. Lawdy, lawdy, he's a great champion." Frazier expressed admiration for Ali's resilience, acknowledging his ability to withstand some of Frazier's best shots.

"I always said I was the greatest fighter. Look what I did with this guy." In the heat of the moment, Frazier maintained his pride and highlighted his performance against Ali as evidence of his own greatness.

These quotes encapsulate the mutual respect that underpinned the fierce rivalry between Ali and Frazier. Despite the harsh words and intense battles leading up to and during their fights, both men recognised and respected the skill, heart, and determination the other brought into the ring. The "Thrill in Manila" was not just a testament to their physical abilities but also to their indomitable spirits and the complex relationship that evolved from their trilogy of fights.


The legacy of the Ali-Frazier rivalry extends far beyond the confines of the boxing ring, captivating global audiences and transcending the boundaries of the sport to mirror the broader societal narratives of the time. Their epic battles were not merely displays of athletic excellence but symbolised the era's struggles, dreams, and complexities. Beyond their intense competition and the sharp exchanges that often marked their encounters, Ali and Frazier shared a deep-seated respect and acknowledgment of each other's prowess, highlighting the profound bond that can emerge from the fires of rivalry. Their story stands as a powerful illustration of how sports can encapsulate the essence of human endeavour, resilience, and the pursuit of greatness. Echoing Ali's sentiments, "If god ever called me to a holy war, I would want Joe Frazier by my side."


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