Elliott Erwitt, New York City, 1971 (Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier). Silver gelatin print. 12 x 18 in. (sight), 25 x 21 in. (frame). Signed in pen to recto, pencil to verso. Matted in glazed black frame.
Photographer Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928) captured a dramatic moment in the 15th and final round of the first meeting of heavyweight champions Joe Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs; 1944-2011) and Muhammad Ali (31-0, 25 KOs; 1942-2016). Billed as the Fight of the Century, it was the first ever meeting held between two undefeated boxers for the heavyweight title. Ali had won the title in 1964 from Sonny Liston, but had been stripped and banned from sanctioned fights by boxing authorities in 1966 for his conscientious objection and refusal to fight in Vietnam. It was only in 1971 that Ali won a Supreme Court appeal and had only returned to boxing on August 11th the previous year. In Ali’s forced absence, Frazier had won championship belts from Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis and was recognized by boxing authorities as the reigning World Champion. The unprecedented meeting of two heavyweight undefeated boxers created unparalleled anticipation. The fight also carried political implications as Ali was a vocal figurehead of the left-wing anti-establishment movement and in response conservative, pro-war advocates adopted Frazier. The fight was broadcast to 35 countries and Madison Square Garden was sold out with dozens of celebrities in attendance, including Frank Sinatra, who unable to procure a ticket, resorted to taking photographs for Life magazine.
The title bout lived up to the hype, with veteran referee Arthur Mercante, Sr. remarking that “they both threw some of the best punches I’ve ever seen.” Ali and Frazier went the full 15-round championship distance. A pivotal moment is captured here by Erwitt, when Frazier landed his signature left hook and Ali went to the canvas. Though Ali managed to stand after a four count and stayed up, Frazier won the round and the fight in a unanimous decision. Ali and Frazier would meet twice more in Super Fight II (1974, won by Ali in unanimous decision) and Thrilla in Manila (1975, Ali by TKO).
Provenance:Purchased from Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco
Not examined out of the frame, remarks on signatures from Robert Koch Gallery label to verso. Same label notes dimensions: 12.5 x 18.75 in. (image), 16 x 20 in. (sheet)
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