America at Large: the man who paid Muhammad Ali $2.5m to get whupped

Jerry Perenchio was the brains behind ‘The Fight of the Century’ won by Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier drops Muhammad Ali during the 15th round  of ‘The Fight of the Century’ at Madison Square Gardens. Photograph:  Keystone/Getty

Joe Frazier drops Muhammad Ali during the 15th round of ‘The Fight of the Century’ at Madison Square Gardens. Photograph: Keystone/Getty

Jerry Perenchio was in a suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London when he got a phone call from an old pal in Chicago telling him the rights for the world heavyweight title bout between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali were still available. He took out his pencil, did a few simple sums, and called back with an offer of a guaranteed $5m purse to be shared equally between both fighters. He had never promoted a boxing match before, had never even seen Frazier in the ring, but figured something that would be justifiably billed “The Fight of the Century” warranted that sort of money.

“There’s never been anything like it in my lifetime,” said Perenchio, “very possibly since time began!”

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