“The Fight of the Century” was such an enormous event, it was watched by approximately 300 million people when the global population was slightly half of what it is today.
According to an ESPN documentary commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, roughly 300 million viewers watched that legendary heavyweight battle live in at least 50 countries worldwide. The look back, “ESPN Presents: Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier 50th Anniversary Special,” debuted Sunday night on ESPN.
It indicated that Ali-Frazier, which occurred 50 years ago today at Madison Square Garden in New York, generated $45 million in pay-per-view revenue in the United States. Their heavily hyped fight was shown at closed-circuit locations throughout the country on a Monday night – March 8, 1971.
ESPN also noted that Ali-Frazier attracted 27.5 million viewers on BBC1 in the United Kingdom, a total that accounted for about half of the UK’s population at that time. That number is especially impressive because Ali-Frazier began in the early-morning hours of March 9 in the UK.
Philadelphia’s Frazier, then undefeated, entered their 15-round fight as a slight favorite at Las Vegas sports books. A 26-year-old Frazier knocked down Ali with a left hook in the 15th round and won a unanimous decision to retain his WBA and WBC titles.
Their first fight was such a hot ticket in New York that scalpers were getting as much as $700 for a $150 ticket, according to late New York Times columnist Dave Anderson. The New York Times also reported that the gate revenue was $1.25 million from a fight that packed a capacity crowd of 19,000 into The Garden.
Ali, then 29, and Frazier were paid $2.5 million apiece for the first of their three fights.
Ali won their 12-round rematch by unanimous decision in January 1974, also at Madison Square Garden. Louisville’s Ali stopped Frazier in the 14th round of their rubber match, “The Thrilla In Manila,” in October 1975 at Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines.
ESPN’s aforementioned documentary can be replayed on ESPN+, the network’s $6-per-month streaming service.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.