In October 1975 the world watched in awe as Muhammad Ali, 33, and Joe Frazier, 31, summoned the last of their peaks to beat each other silly for 14 brutal rounds. Although it remains one of the greatest contests of them all, it is hard to truly enjoy today. 

We know that Ali fought on for another six years, and we know what those six years combined with the 15 that came before ultimately did to him. We know too that Frazier’s scars, not helped by the two subsequent contests he endured, never really healed.

Legends, both, for what they sacrificed inside the ring. But what was the real reward for their efforts? The notion that the boxing afterlife was kind to them is a falsehood. 

Neither would have wanted, much less expected, to be figures of pity in their final years. Yet it’s impossible to deny that is what they would ultimately become.

One could argue that Ali-Frazier III was the contest that both defined the 1970s heavyweight era and what marked the beginning of its end, simply because the two greatest big men of that decade showcased their bewildering courage to such an extent, things could never be the same again. 

One now wonders how Oleksandr Usyk’s mesmeric victory over Tyson Fury will be viewed in the future. Already, mere days after it, the feeling that both may have left the best of themselves in Saudi Arabia on May 18, 2024, is difficult to ignore. Even so, in the here and now, everyone wants to see their limits pushed to the brink once more. 

That rematch is supposedly pencilled in for October. The money on offer will understandably be too good for the fighters to turn down. That lure of combat, that high from one more hit, perhaps even more so.

But can Usyk, at 37, really be that good again? Moreover, can 35-year-old Fury – who has lived as an athlete only intermittently – truly shake off the effects of yet another brush with unconsciousness? Perhaps, but the likelihood is that irreversible damage to their futures has already been done. Certainly, their long-term health won’t be assisted by fighting each other again.

Every great fighter, without exception, is presented with the perfect time to say goodbye.

For Ali and Frazier, it was the Thrilla in Manilla – if not before. For Usyk and Fury, it was last weekend. 

It was perfect in every way.

It was the kind of showdown the current era so desperately needed. It immediately transformed the last 10 years from an exciting era into one of the best in the division’s history. 

The crowning of one king was the only thing that we’d been missing, after all. Not so much the icing on the cake but the most important ingredient added before it overcooked, spoilt forever. We must be thankful that boxing – in its current guise as the most disorganized of sports – finally got its act together and presented its leader to the world.

Yet it took an awfully long time to reach that point and, thus, those expecting more of the same, like in previous eras, might just be expecting too much. 

It showed how much the game has changed in the last 40 to 50 years. In every decade before the 1990s, before one champion per division regularly became two, three, four and sometimes even more, it was the coronation of an undisputed champion that kickstarted a new era as opposed to hinted at its conclusion.

We romanticize those olden days with good reason. 

Things are different now. And, who knows, perhaps this current heavyweight era will one day be looked upon as the new and improved way to do it. Build the story, set the scene, get to know each of the main characters, throw in some unforeseen plot twists and then unleash the mother of all final chapters. The crowning of one champion might indeed be the sensible end. 

If it wasn’t for the proliferation of titles, and that winding journey to ‘undisputed’, would we have had each of the three Fury-Deontay Wilder bouts and the two contests between Joshua and Usyk? Would Klitschko have returned to challenge Joshua? Would Wilder and Ortiz have even entertained the idea of fighting each other and would there have been time for Andy Ruiz Jr’s thrilling cameo? Would second tier barnburners like Dillian Whyte-Derek Chisora, Whyte-Joseph Parker and Parker-Joe Joyce have been so easy to make? 

Now we know what each of those contests were leading to – that sumptuous Usyk and Fury rivalry – it’s likely everything will be packaged together as one triumphant period of time.

Therefore we can say that the last 10 years were always building to the all-conquering crescendo that was Saturday night and without all that came before the excitement it generated simply wouldn’t have existed. 

Ultimately, it’s not for us, as boxing fans, to concern ourselves with anything other than the next fight. And it’s nearly always been too much to ask of the fighters themselves, those who live for the brutality, to get out while the going is good.

Like Ali and Frazier didn’t and like they wouldn’t have done, even if they’d have glimpsed into what lay ahead.