Frazier turned and walked away. Earlier in the fight, after pounding Ali with hooks to the head, he had asked his cornermen, "What is keeping this guy up?" Now he asked it again as he turned and saw Ali climb slowly to his feet at the count of four. Frazier won a unanimous decision—"I kicked your ass!" he would yell at Ali as the final bell sounded—but among the enduring moments of that night was the one in which a battered Ali rose off that deck.
The two fighters sent each other to the hospital. Ali went briefly for a swollen right jaw, which made him appear to need a tooth extraction, and a lumpy-faced Frazier was in and out for two weeks for treatment of exhaustion, high blood pressure and kidney problems. The two men also left each other irreversibly diminished. They would never be the same fighters again.
Thirty-five months would pass before they would meet for Ali-Frazier II, on Jan. 28, 1974, at the Garden. But by then the context in which they fought had changed so dramatically that there is no comparing the two bouts. On Jan. 22, 1973, Frazier had lost his title when George Foreman hit him a few times with his wreckingball right and knocked him senseless in the second round in Kingston, Jamaica. So there was no championship at stake in Ali-Frazier II. By then, too, the social causes of the '60s were no longer ardent issues. But the Vietnam War had become such a national plague that Ali's popularity had climbed at roughly the same rate that the war's had declined.
The only thing that remained the same was Frazier's incandescent animus toward Ali, unappeased by his victory in '71. Five days before the second fight, sitting together before a national TV audience on ABC, they were discussing the first bout when Frazier referred to Ali's visit to the hospital. "I went to the hospital for 10 minutes," Ali shot back. "You went for a month."
"I was resting," Frazier said.
"That shows how dumb you are," Ali said. "People don't go to a hospital to rest. See how ignorant you are?"
Frazier had not had much formal schooling, and Ali had touched his hottest button. "I'm tired of you calling me ignorant all the time," snapped Frazier. "I'm not ignorant!" With that, he rose and towered over Ali, tightening his fists, his eyes afire. When Ali's brother, Rahaman, rushed to the stage, Frazier turned to him and said, "You in this too?" Here Ali jumped to his feet and grabbed Frazier in a bear hug. They rolled off the stage and onto the studio floor, and Goodman remembers Frazier holding one of Ali's feet and twisting it, like the head of a chicken, while Futch screamed, "Joe! Joe! Don't twist off his foot! There won't be a fight."
Ali was bug-eyed as Frazier left in a fury. "Did you see how wide Clay's eyes opened up?" Frazier said. "Now I really got him scared!"
Frazier got nothing. Ali won an easy 12-round decision, nearly knocking Frazier out in the second round and then clinching and smothering whatever attack Frazier tried to mount inside. Indeed, Ali put on a boxing clinic, fighting at his range instead of Frazier's, and many of Frazier's sweeping hooks appeared to lack the snap they'd had three years before. The Ali-Frazier rivalry might have ended right there, in fact, if Ali had not taken events into his hands so magnificently nine months later, on Oct. 30 in Kinshasa, Zaire, knocking out Foreman—the baddest man on the planet—in an upset that staggered the memory and fired the imagination.
Ali's victory in Africa eventually led to Ali-Frazier III, the final combat, in the Philippines. Here the two fighters got guaranteed purses, $4.5 million for Ali and $2 million for Frazier, plus a percentage of the gross. Once again Ali had become the largest draw in sports, and once again he went at Frazier with a vengeance, correcting his diction and carrying around, in his shirt pocket, a small rubber gorilla. At a press conference before the fight, Ali pulled out the doll in front of Frazier and began beating it, saying, "All night long, this is what you'll see. Come on, gorilla! We're in Manila! Come on, gorilla, this is a thrilla!" Black people cringed, but not a few whites laughed, and Frazier felt again the heat of his own anger.