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Frazier KO’s Jimmy Ellis to Win WBA Title – February 16, 1970

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Joe Frazier knocked out Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round of their re-unification title bout, on February 16, 1970, at Madison Square Garden in New York. By winning the fight, the undefeated Frazier layed claim to the title of undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The only problem with that was, there was that other undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion who hadn’t exactly gone into hiding. His name was Muhammad Ali.

In 1967 Ali was stripped of his title when he refused induction into the Army. Ali claimed that he should have been exempt from the draft because he was a Muslim minister.

Ellis, a close associate and former sparring partner of Ali, won the WBA championship after he survived its eight-man elimination tournament between 1967 and 1968. Frazier had also been invited to compete in the tournament, but he chose not to participate. Instead, he fought and knocked out Buster Mathis (who was undefeated, but not selected by the WBA for their tournament) to win the New York State version of the title. Five other states also recognized Frazier as the champion.

Ali watched a close circuit broadcast of the Frazier-Ellis fight (along with a sold out crowd) at the old Arena, in Frazier’s home town of Philadelphia. Ali was also living in Philadelphia at that time.

The Philadelphia Bulletin reported:

The deposed champ, trim in white shirt, black tie and flared gray pin-striped trousers, did take over the audience as soon as the televised battle was over.

Feinting and mugging and shouting, he soon had the throng cheering him on. When
he got outside, Clay danced down Market Street to renewed shouts of, “Here comes the champ!” At the parking lot he climbed atop a car and shouted, to the delight of the shoving crowd trying to touch him, that “I want Frazier! I’m starting my comeback now! This town is too small for both of us!” Ali drove off to his newly purchased, $92.000 Overbrook home in a lavender Cadillac with a white top. But he did not rush. He seemed to savor the sight of fans climbing over hoods of cars to surround him.

Even during the match he found it impossible to devote himself entirely to his blow-by-blow analysis for the magazine [Esquire Magazine paid Ali $8,000 to record his reactions to the fight.], to make sure the crowd knew exactly where he was sitting, he leaped up in his seat from time to time, shouting, waving, shadow boring.

“There’s the champ.” partisans shouted. Heads turned from seats on the floor, grandstand and upper deck. He arrived while the preceding bout was on, carved a path through the crowd outside that could not get into the sold-out Arena, and held up tickets to show that he was not getting free seat favoritism.

Meanwhile, joining Frazier and Ellis on the under card, there was still another undefeated heavyweight by the name of George Foreman, who was roundly booed by the Garden crowd after he was awarded a unanimous decision following his unimpressive ten round showing against Gregorio Peralta.

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