On this day in 1974, Muhammad Ali evened the score with Joe Frazier, via 12-round unanimous decision. This is the least celebrated of the trilogy between these two, but a legendary battle regardless.
The first fight took place in Madison Square Garden in March 1971, with Frazier winning by unanimous decision in the greatest performance of his career. Frazier led on all three cards after Round 14 and then cemented his victory early in the 15th and final round when he sent Ali tumbling to the canvas with a sensational left hook. It was one of the most significant sporting events in history, with the two undefeated legends facing off for the undisputed heavyweight crown.
After defeating Ali, Frazier seemed invicible. However, after knocking out Terry Daniels and Ronnie Sanders in 1972, Smoking Joe ran into the George Foreman freight train in Jamaica in 1973. Big George over-powered Frazier, knocking him down six times and winning by Round 2 TKO.
With Foreman on top, the January 28, 1974 rematch between Ali and Frazier was viewed as a contest for second place, and drew far less interest than the first and third bouts. Writing for the Associate Press, columnist Will Grimsley called it a fight between “two former champions, both beaten, both past their prime.” Once again, the bout took place in Madison Square Garden.
As was often the case with Frazier, he started slowly in this battle and it nearly cost him the fight in Round 2. Ali hurt him badly and had him nearly finished when referee Tony Perez stepped between them and separated them, thinking that he had heard the bell to finish the round. The break in action allowed Frazier to recover.
Ali fought a tough strategic battle, scoring in flurries and then clinching his shorter opponent, grabbing Frazier by the back of the neck and tying up his left hand to stop the dangerous lead hook.
The win positioned Ali for a shot at Foreman later in the year, when he did the improbable by knocking out the dangerous young lion in Zaire in October. That win returned the championship to Ali’s waste and set the stage for the third and final bout between Ali and Frazier, the Octobr 1975 “Thrilla in Manila,” the greatest heavyweight fight in history.