The Thrilla in Manila is a famous boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, fought at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines on October 1, 1975. The bout is often ranked as one of the greatest fights of 20th century boxing, and is the climax to the bitter rivalry between Ali and Frazier.
The city of Cairo had apparently been considered as a possible host to the fight: The August 1975 issue of Ring Magazine had a fictitious fight-poster of Ali-Frazier III on its cover, which listed Nasser Stadium in Cairo as the place the fight was taking place.
The mood of the two fighters and their camps could not be further apart. In Ali's camp the mood was jovial, and lighthearted. According to Ali's longtime physician and cornerman Ferdie Pacheco, it was believed by Ali and his trainers that Joe Frazier was washed up after his devastating loss to George Foreman, and the relative ease with which Ali had defeated Frazier in their rematch after that fight seemed to bear this out. The general consensus was that Ali was doing Frazier a favor, giving Joe one last big payday before sending him off into retirement, and as a result Ali did little training, instead concentrating on the torrid affair he was having with Veronica Porche, and amusing the vast entourage that had come to be nicknamed the "Ali Circus". Later, when Ali's then wife Belinda Ali found out that not only was Ali carrying on this affair but was introducing Veronica as his wife, she stormed into the Philippines, causing yet another distraction.
Frazier, meanwhile, was training with a grim and determined intensity. Frazier had never forgiven Ali for the spew of invective Ali had directed at him prior to their first fight. Ali labeled Frazier as an "ugly dumb gorilla", deriding him as an inarticulate physical specimen devoid of any intelligence. Ali also labeled Joe as an "Uncle Tom" and as the "White Man's Champion".
Frazier was the son of a sharecropper from the deep South, as well as a survivor of ghettos in New York and Philadelphia, to which he moved as a minor by himself to pursue boxing, and he had certainly suffered a degree of prejudice and discrimination that Ali had never known. Furthermore, Frazier felt that Ali had betrayed him, because Frazier had attended numerous tribunals, hearings, and public relations functions in support of Ali throughout his difficulties stemming from his choice to dodge the Vietnam-era draft. Frazier's support of Ali extended beyond Ali's legal difficulties: Frazier ardently supported Ali in his attempt to have his boxing license restored. Frazier and Ali's relationship, and the lasting enmity that Frazier continued to harbor for Ali, stemmed from this period of support. Frazier supported Ali financially during his exile from boxing, periodically giving Ali hundreds of dollars. The ad hominem attacks that Ali directed at Frazier were unforgivable according to Frazier. While Ali later asserted that he did so in an attempt to promote their fights and increase the gate, Frazier has always countered that their gate of $2.5 million a piece was guaranteed. The period of social unrest of the era is important to locate in context, as Ali as a social phenomenon transcended boxing. His bitter hatred for Ali drove Frazier to train relentlessly to beat Ali.
Worse yet, Ali tried to promote further interest in the fight by taunting Frazier at every opportunity, most famously by punching a rubber gorilla meant to represent Frazier during a press conference while saying: "It's gonna be a chilla, and a killa, and a thrilla, when I get the Gorilla in Manila." So, when they got into the ring, Frazier was, as in the first bout, an angry warrior, whereas Ali was overconfident and underprepared.
At 10:45 AM, the bell for Round 1 rang. Ali had previously told his trainers that he was going to "put a whuppin'" on Joe Frazier, and he started the fight looking to do just that. Frazier was known for starting fights slowly, and Ali came out looking to use that to his advantage. Rather than dance and use his speed to stay away from Frazier, Ali came out and walked flat footed to the center of the ring and then proceeded to unleash a flurry of combinations on Frazier, who was hurt a number of times by Ali's onslaught, including staggering backwards several times in the first few rounds. However, to the amazement of Ali and many watching, Frazier continued to come forward, intent on punishing Ali's body at close range despite having to take more and more of the withering punishment Ali was dishing out in order to do so. According to Pacheco, Ali, who wanted to make it a short fight, grew so frustrated with Frazier's refusal to go down or stop coming forward that he screamed "You stupid chump, you!" at Frazier in the fourth round.
As Ali began to tire from all the energy he had expended, Frazier turned up his own offense and began punishing Ali to the body and the head with his trademark hooks. By the sixth round Frazier had staggered him in turn and seemed to be gaining control of the bout. At the beginning of the seventh round, Ali reportedly whispered in Frazier's ear, "Joe, they told me you was all washed up" Frazier growled back, "They lied."
Frazier seemed to dominate the middle rounds. Ali tried to fend Frazier off with occasional furious flurries of punches, spurts of manic activity, and even unsuccessfully tried to use the rope-a-dope technique that had defeated George Foreman nearly a year earlier, but it was all negated by Frazier's relentless assault and power. Ali's camp seemed to have overlooked the fact that Frazier's smothering fighting style, which employed great numbers of left hooks, was in many ways, the perfect foil for Ali.
Between the terrific heat inside the stadium, Frazier's assault and his own nonchalant training, it began to seem that Ali would wilt and fall to defeat.
Finally, in the tenth round, Frazier began to slow down and tire, and Ali slowly turned the tide. In the 11th round he used his speed to dance more, and to unload a series of fast combinations on Frazier, which severely disfigured his face by the end of the round, swelling Frazier's eyes to the point that nothing but a tiny slit remained open. Throughout round 12 Ali continued to turn the momentum, increasingly overwhelming Frazier, and using the fact that Frazier could no longer see Ali's right hand coming to hit Frazier with one hard right after another. About a minute into Round 13, Ali landed another blistering combination on Frazier, sending the injured fighter's mouthguard flying into the crowd. During the next two minutes Ali relentlessly kept after Frazier, hitting Frazier with hard combinations when Frazier wasn't throwing punches, and when Frazier did throw Ali used the openings left to inflict yet more damage.
Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, wanted to stop the fight at this point. Frazier, however, refused, asking his coach to give him one more round. In round 14, Frazier was almost blind as he stepped in, and was met once more with punishing blows from Ali. It was later revealed that Frazier actually had a cataract in his left eye and so, with the punishment from Ali closing his right eye, Frazier was effectively fighting blind in the last rounds of the fight. By the 14th round Frazier was virtually helpless, and although Ali was desperately tired and hurting, he was able to summon the energy to once again give Frazier a fierce beating, and once again Frazier was staggered and nearly knocked down before the bell ended the round.
Seeing the grisly results of round 14, Eddie Futch decided to stop the fight between rounds rather than risk a similar or worse fate for Frazier in the 15th. Frazier protested stopping the fight, shouting "I want him boss," and trying to get Futch to change his mind. Futch simply replied, "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today", and signaled to the referee to end the bout.
Ali was therefore declared the victor and shortly after he fainted on the canvas. He claimed that this was the closest to dying he has ever been, and also stated, "Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him." In a brief post-fight interview with one of the commentators, Ali announced, "Joe Frazier is the greatest fighter in the world, next to me."
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