The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 5
That's Life - The story behind the front cover
By Gillian Greenwood
March 8th, 1971. The Muhammad Ali – Smokin’ Joe Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden New York, the number one address in the world for sports and entertainment. And the unexpected congress of four titans: Ali, Frazier, Frank Sinatra, and the controversial and celebrated post-World War II American writer, Norman Mailer.
Both Ali and Frazier were guaranteed $2.5 million dollars win or lose, the largest single pay packet in one day for any entertainer or athlete until then. It was the first time in history two undefeated champions had met for the undisputed title. Tickets to the fight were made available to the general public by post on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Prices were as high as $150 for a ringside seat, a sizeable sum for 1971. It was estimated that 300 million people around the globe would watch the fight, which would be broadcast from the ringside in twelve different languages. In fact, it was the largest audience ever for a television broadcast up to that time, and more people tuned into the fight than had watched the Apollo Moon Landing in 1969.
The Madison Square Garden, filled to capacity with 20,455 spectators, was seething with celebrities, much of the diamond-and-mink dripping assembly looking like a set from the Oscars. However, not everyone was able to get a prime seat. Hubert Humphrey, the ex-vice President of the United States, had to sit in the mezzanine and Bing Crosby, with the overflow of stars who couldn’t get into the Gar-den, was to be found at Radio City Music Hall wat-ching the match on closed-circuit TV. Few athletic events, even the World Cup, had come even close to generating the sort of excitement and attention that this prizefight was getting.