A sequel to the fight of the century was this epic bout between these two men who turned into a cultural icon. After Frazier had stunned Ali in the first fight, it was time for Ali to level up with him. The roads for each of these fighters weren’t easy.
Be it in the ring or off it, they both hated each other’s guts and couldn’t stand it. However, we are here today, not to discuss their mindset outside the ring but inside it. Sure, the mentality and approach do carry forward to the ring but these two being as great as they were put up a hell of a show.
Between the first and trilogy was this second fight which stood out for me in terms of pure technical brilliance. Both men with their extremely contrasting style wanted to end each other’s career in those 12 rounds. As a result of their sheer determination, we got one of the best bouts in boxing history. Today, we are breaking down one of the classic fights between these two legends and take as much meat as we can.
Ali though defeated didn’t accept his loss to Frazier. Though owning up is a sign of a winner. That wasn’t the case with Ali. In his mind, he knew that he was the best in the world. Best at what he did.
Thinking otherwise would creep fear within him. He didn’t back down, waged wars against the toughest competitors in the division until the right time arrived. Thus, you can’t blame Ali for his mentality. It was this mindset that made him seek revenge on Frazier.
On the other hand, things got smoother as Foreman defeated Frazier. Not only did he win the belt but pushed Frazier behind Ali in the contender’s race for the title. And to take his belt back, he needed to defeat Ali, who at the time was the #1 contender. This set up the platform for a rematch beautifully. Though defeated, Frazier like Ali had no doubt that he was going to reclaim his title from Foreman once he puts Ali to sleep.
What do we learn here? Regardless of where you are in your boxing journey. You have to hold yourself in high regards. Not to be cocky. But to believe in yourself and know that though defeated once, you can always bounce back.
Finding your boxing style
Whether you’re an aspiring boxer or you’ve already started competing, it’s crucial to find your style. No two boxers are the same. And this fight teaches the contrasting styles of both fighters more than anything.
Muhammad Ali had mobile footwork, high-posture slips and blazing fast hands. Frazier had excellent defense mechanism including crouching, erratic head movement and darting punches. Ali was known for his movement and jabs; Frazier was known for his defense and power punches. Here you see two fighters possessing unique abilities – quite different from each other.
This fight will help you find your style. Muhammad Ali was far from perfect. But the skills he possessed, Frazier didn’t. And the skills Frazier possessed, Ali didn’t. Thus, this analysis will help you discover your style. Are you fierce, calculative and enigmatic as Ali or are you fearless, hot-headed and impatient as Frazier? Let’s just find out.
What do we learn here? A style defines a boxer. Sooner or later, you’ll develop a boxing style. A style which will make you comfortable in the ring. You can turn out to be a pressure fighter, a counterpuncher or a defensive genius. You have to work hard to find your style.
Now that we’re done with the mental scheme of things, let’s move towards the fight and learn as much as we can from it.
Making your opponent’s chase you
A stagnant boxer is no good than a punching bag. If you don’t move and stay still, you’re going to get pounded. Ali learned from the mistakes he committed in the first fight. Thus, from the get-go, he knew that he wasn’t going to fight Frazier while staying still. Thus, Ali was moving all along, dancing around the ring in his trademark style, not trying to outbox Frazier while staying put.
Ali knew that he could keep moving and attract Frazier towards him. Thus, he successfully lured Frazier into chasing him in Round 1. Now the strategy here was to draw Frazier and as he fully commits himself, stop in tracks and catch him with a brutal shot.
Result? Ali was able to put Frazier on the back foot by throwing shots at him at an incredible speed from all angles. These punches were sharp, fast, well-grounded and extremely unpredictable. It was too much heat for Frazier and thus he was forced to back away.
Herein, Frazier’s first fight experience worked against him as he was gearing to put Ali to sleep in the first round. He was trying to catch Ali. And he did for the most part by applying pressure, trapping him against the ropes and pummelling his body. But Ali had more to his game this time around.
Lateral movements mid-combinations
Ali’s pull away and precise attacking strategy can be accredited to his extra-ordinary lateral movements mid-combinations. He was stepping off the line in between punches and staying safe. This movement allowed him to find room to attack from new angles. His smallest of adjustments helped him unsettle Frazier who was already infuriated due to his mindset. Throughout the first round, Frazier stayed low with a lot of weight on his lead leg.
Ali’s lateral movements and shifting off the line proved to be too much for Frazier in the first round. A slight step on the inside looked like Frazier finally read Ali but little did he know that Ali was already moving outside the flank, attacking from the side.
At times, Ali would change direction with every single punch. Despite Ali’s dominance in the opening minutes, Frazier did manage to land a few powerful shots. These include a devastating right to the body. A crunching left hook to the temple.
Circling & Jabbing
Ali managed Frazier’s relentless pressure quite well. And that can be accredited to his classic footwork pattern and combination – circling and jabbing.
Ali’s style would revolve around him toying with his opponent with jabs trying to find an opening to set up a power punch. By the end of the first round, Ali found his mark.
In the clip above, you can see Ali skipping inside with a double jab followed by a thundering right hand. This blow forced Frazier to retreat and thus he grew reluctant about charging on Ali.
Now it was Ali’s time to press. After successfully landing the punches, Ali was about to switch off the lights for Frazier but the referee mistakenly halted the fight, as he thought the bell had rung.
By this time, Ali was leading Frazier 2-0.
Finding the rhythm & Understanding your opponent
Frazier was notorious. He was a slow starter and thus when Round 3 began, he found his footing. Ali kept moving and was the same but Frazier was clever. He had done his homework from the first two rounds and now started catching Ali. He had all the right tools to counter Ali. And every inch of that had to do with his footwork.
Contrary to Ali’s legendary footwork, it was Frazier who was playing the cards this time around. By deploying traditional footwork, he was stepping front to back with his rear foot lagging behind. Although this footwork limited Frazier’s power and quick forward movements, it helped him cut off the ring better with his timely steps.
We learned about Ali’s lateral movements above. In Round 3, Frazier was mapping Ali on every move and was moving laterally to cut off any escape. Thus, here was the change in-game plan. Instead of charging forward, Frazier was now moving laterally with Ali.
Result? It helped Frazier backstep Ali against the ropes and helped him land some considerable damage. With Ali more stationary, Frazier was able to pummel his stomach with hooks and uppercuts, draining Ali’s energy and weakening his legs. These were the same body shots which allowed Frazier to control the first fight and so with clever movement and reading of his opponent, he was able to get his foot into the match.
Role of combinations
Ali knew he was getting caught. He knew that Frazier was well-equipped now. Thus, instead of throwing quick jabs, he focused on combinations. He was landing fewer punches but effective ones comprising of hooks and uppercuts.
Frazier was successfully ducking the hook but was eating uppercuts so he could get closer to Ali. Now this was a deadly combination from Ali. Because, if Frazier sought to block the uppercut, he’ll expose himself to a hook and vice-versa.
We have learned in our case studies before about how uppercut and hook act as a perfect setup for each other. Ali’s combinations were doing maximum damage to Frazier, in contrast, Frazier’s combinations didn’t have much impact.
People who say Ali had a poor defense, need to read this. There’s a great myth swirling around boxing community suggesting Ali wasn’t good a defense. Yes, he wasn’t the best but at times, he showed why he was the greatest of all time. Ali knew that he had exposed his head in the previous fight, which eventually cost him the match. This time around, he was defensively sounder.
He framed himself against Frazier’s shoulder, straightening his arm to leverage guard against any shots coming to his head. Now the only problem with this strategy was, that Ali had to sacrifice his body to protect his head.
Any wise boxer in this world would be happy to take shots on the body rather than exposing the chin. (Yes, today boxers do that by running a marathon in the ring. But you know Ali was a different specimen and thus he wouldn’t run or rest on his opponent)
Capitalizing on your opponent’s lost momentum
At the beginning of the fifth round, Frazier sensed that Ali had slowed down. Possibly because of the punches, he had eaten to the body in the previous round.
A twist to this point is that Ali’s grappling had improved quite a lot since the first fight. Frazier couldn’t break Ali’s clinch effortlessly. He was successfully doing it by swimming his hands inside and using his head to disbalance Ali. But Ali stuck his elbow inside and turned his body sideways to defend effectively. Though this was Frazier’s round, with Ali closing the gate with sound defense, Frazier could launch only a few body shots before his attacks were stifled.
Maintaining your composure
Perhaps the best thing you can learn from this fight is how to maintain your composure. And that comes at Frazier’s expense. In 6th Round, he became restless and thus he became reckless. He stayed upright and charged haphazardly at Ali eating a considerable amount of punches in the process.
He was making it easy for Ali as he was throwing himself into Ali’s hooks. He even tried a gazelle hook with such intensity that he ended up turning his back towards Ali putting himself into a terrible position.
Frazier’s reckless movement helped Ali to escape corners easily. This infuriated Frazier even more. By this point, he started treating defense as an afterthought, which nearly cost him. For the remainder of the 6th Round, Ali went vintage, exploiting the openings while shuffling and moving around the ring making Frazier look like a fool.
Guarded from side to side, Ali landed jabs, tight hooks and uppercuts at will. By the time 6th Round came to a close, it was a one-sided affair except that previous round where Frazier landed quality body shots.
Closing the range
Now here’s an aspect where Frazier’s skills are undermined. He is similar to Terence Crawford today was great at making changes to his game to suit the needs. He knew that he was getting outmaneuvered by Ali from distance, thus he started getting close to him. This helped him discover Ali’s vulnerability. i.e. opening when he landed his shots.
When Ali hit Frazier with a left or the right, there was a split second where his body was exposed. Now the challenge for Frazier was to read which hand was coming towards him. But at the same time, the rewards were high as Ali was wide open each time, he threw any of these punches. Thus, Frazier had to time his punches like a legend and so he did.
With his low rhythm bobs and weaves, he stayed at mid-range and timed Ali’s punches to perfection. Ducking under a low hook, Frazier rolled a powerful left at Ali. The blow knocked Ali back against the ropes. Though Ali tried dancing away, he was shaken by Frazier’s newly found vigor.
At this moment, Ali looked vulnerable. He received a hook to the jaw and Frazier was measuring him perfectly with every punch (packed with venom). Frazier corned Ali and stayed at midrange to entice Ali to throw a jab. As Ali would punch him, he would easily duck and brush aside his punches. Astoundingly, it was Ali who was being schooled in this round.
Now many people wouldn’t agree with me. But I feel Ali was just one punch away from getting knocked out. The same punch that made him lay on the mat was attempted yet again, however, Ali luckily was able to avoid it.
Not getting affected by mind games
It’s not just the build-up to the fight but the fight itself which can let you get better of you. So, when Frazier missed that punch, we mentioned above, he taunted Ali that his punches were lacking power. He was provoking Ali to step forward and commit a mistake. Now, we see this trick in today’s fighting world a lot. And whether, you’re an amateur, professional or a legend, you cannot let these taunts get to your head. It’s as simple as that.
Let go of the clutches
Ali was so fixated with Frazier’s left, that he totally forgot about his right. During the closing rounds, Frazier caught Ali with a terrifying overhead, which possibly could’ve been a knockout blow against any other fighter. This shot leaked Ali’s nose and much to his luck, the bell rang and the round was over.
These chain of events goes to show what a classic match this was! Two men, hell-bent on destroying each other.
At this moment in time, Frazier had all the momentum in the world. If the bell hadn’t rung, he presumably would’ve knocked Ali out. Nonetheless, Frazier was able to change the fate of the match in his favour. However, if that night wasn’t etched in Ali’s history as his greatest win, we wouldn’t be discussing this today.
So, Ali did what he was known for. He understood that against the ring is where he’s the most vulnerable. Thus, every time Frazier would push him towards the ring, he would push Frazier back in the centre. At this moment, it looked like Ali was going to decide the outcome of the match by himself and wouldn’t let it slip away. And so, he did.
NO MORE RUNNING! He just stood his ground and threw what we call as Ali’s insane 15-punch combination – A legendary event let alone a move in boxing. What followed? Frazier’s forward movements countered by Ali’s sidesteps angling towards the centre of the ring. By this time, Ali was on top of Frazier and was unleashing his wrath on him.
By the time Ali ended his combinations, he was on the front foot and Frazier was the one struggling for his life. Forget the last 10 rounds and the stories in it. This single round is enough to take you on a roller coaster ride. But how did Ali swing it in his favour yet again?
Ability to take risks
When Ali got pushed to the ringside, he was no longer playing the second fiddle. Though not his preferred area, he was wrestling Frazier trying to push him to the centre. Ali kept shoving him to the centre and cut dangerous angles, stepping forward into the path of Frazier’s punches to regain lost ground.
It wasn’t a perfect strategy; Ali was risking a lot. However, it was a high-risk, high-reward situation for him and he was tired playing the second fiddle in the last few rounds. Frazier did catch Ali on numerous occasions but conceded more damage than he could land. Thus, the momentum right again was in favour of Ali. Powerful looping shots, tight punches and the crowd chanting Ali’s name at the top of their voice.
Looking back at this fight, it gives me goosebumps to see how the sport has evolved over the ages. These were raw fighters trying to finish each other up. Their technical skills and their talents are often underplayed. Boxing today has become highly analytical and quite measured. But this fight was pure display of shifting momentum and two great boxers trying to achieve unprecedented success in the squared circle.
One of them known as the greatest of all time, the other known as the one who overcame the greatest of all time. Say what you want, but classic boxing will and forever be something to remember. And bouts like these are the ones on which future generations will write a Netflix series. (Since the analytical books and e-books are already there)
Hope you like this analysis. We’ll try to carry on our classic boxing analysis and learn more about the legendary boxers involved in legendary matches.