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Fight of the Century? Perhaps — For This Century

Saturday night’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather fight is being hyped as the “Fight of the Century” — a label that always grabs everybody’s attention.

Let’s go back a century and visit other fights heralded as the “Fight of the Century.”

I’ve got to start with the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight in 1971.

Two undefeated boxers with contrasting styles meet in Madison Square Garden, each representing two sides of a divided country with Ali perceived as a draft dodger and Frazier as apple pie. I listened to that one on the radio, but I wasn’t able to watch it because the fight was available via “closed circuit” TV only. Think how that has changed. Now you can push a button on your cable control and you’ve just agreed to pay what amounts to a car payment to watch a fight.

Joe_Louis_-_Max_Schmeling_-_1936 Louis vs. Schmeling

While the first one proved epic, the 1975 finale to the Ali-Frazier three-fight series known as “The Thrilla in Manilla” ranks better for most as the pair slugged it out one last time for the Heavyweight Championship. The fight ended when Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel for his fighter prior to the 15th, and final, round. Both fighters would later say they felt like they were dying in this one.

Sugar Ray Leonard had memorable “Fight of the Century” bouts against Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns and going back further, Joe Louis’ fights against Max Schmeling and Billy Conn were classics, but I don’t think anybody heralded either as the “Fight of the Century” based on the simple fact that sports were more understated and marketing machines had yet to be created.

Point being, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather can be “The Fight of the Century,” let’s just make sure they’re talking about this century — when the sport barely exists — and not for the one in the rear-view mirror.

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography