In his hotel room the morning after, Muhammad Ali nursed a swollen jaw as the room service waiter arrived with breakfast and good wishes for the man he called champ.

“I’m not the champ,” Ali corrected him. “Joe Frazier is the champ.”

Indeed he was, and if anyone needed a reminder the morning papers provided it with a picture as shocking to Ali’s adoring fans as his defeat the night before. There was Ali glassy-eyed and struggling to get up from the canvas in the 15th round as Frazier walked to a neutral corner more certain than ever of victory.

“There were a couple of knockdowns really,” Frazier said, chuckling at the thought. “They called the first one a slip. But it was the left hook that made him slip.”

It was 40 years ago Tuesday that Ali and Frazier met at Madison Square Garden in a fight so big it was simply referred to as The Fight. It was Frazier’s heavyweight title that was on the line, but a lot of boxing fans still considered Ali the champion because he was stripped of the title and sent into boxing exile for refusing to be drafted.

Frazier was undefeated and in his prime, a relentless aggressor with a vicious left hook. Ali, in just his third fight since the 3½-year layoff, was a polarizing figure who was hated by some just as much as he was loved by others.

“A lot of ’em want me whipped because of the draft,” Ali said before the fight. “A lot of ’em want me whipped because of religion. A lot of ’em want me whipped because I’m black … and for other reasons that I might not even know about.”

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