• July 25, 2024

A Memorable Boxing Moment: The Thrilla in Manila

A Boxing Memory: The Thrilla in Manila

“Ali and Frazier weren’t fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. They were fighting for the heavyweight championship of each other.” – Thomas Hauser

In 1975, during their third and final encounter, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were not yet irreparably damaged. That would come later. The struggles they faced in their later years couldn’t solely be attributed to the intense battle they had in the scorching Manila ring, but it undeniably played a significant role in the health issues they suffered as they grew older. Both should have retired right then and there, but they persisted, and as a result, their quality of life and longevity were greatly diminished due to their failure to heed the obvious warnings.

It was the most brutal fight of their extraordinary trilogy. Although both fighters had significantly declined, their once magnificent skills diminished by the enduring wars they endured throughout their remarkable careers, Ali and Frazier still possessed enough to deliver one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing.

As Thomas Hauser aptly stated, “Their declining curves intersected at precisely the same point.”

Their relationship had evolved in recent years. Friendship had always been a stretch, but Frazier had supported Ali during his time in exile when he refused to take a step forward. He provided financial assistance when the former heavyweight champion faced financial struggles without boxing income. Frazier even went to the White House to advocate for the reinstatement of Ali’s boxing license. Frazier played a significant role in keeping Ali’s name alive. However, when public opinion shifted regarding the Vietnam War and subsequently the perception of Ali, their relationship changed. Initially, it was relatively playful, but it soon turned bitterly contentious. Ali used derogatory terms such as “Uncle Tom” and “Gorilla,” while calling Frazier stupid, backward, and inferior as a human being. The list goes on.

“A white lawyer kept him out of jail, and he’s going to Uncle Tom me,” Frazier expressed in his autobiography. Ali’s remarks about Frazier often had racial undertones, intended or not. Ali claimed it was all part of the show, but it extended far beyond mere fight promotion.

Some suggested that Ali would say things and forget about them a few minutes later, and that there was never any malice in his words about Frazier. I remain unconvinced, but even if Ali did forget, Frazier never did. “I think he should be pushed into the flames,” Frazier remarked when asked about Ali’s selection to light the Olympic torch in 1996. Despite claims of forgiveness in his final years, Frazier likely harbored much of his resentment towards Ali until his passing.

However, despite the verbal hostilities and animosity, their legacy is enhanced because they had each other. Award-winning writer David Halberstam said of their rivalry, “The only way we know of Ali’s greatness is because of Frazier’s equivalent greatness.”

“Ali always said I would be nothing without him,” Frazier once remarked. He had a point.

Ali and Frazier shared forty-one rounds together, and while Frazier emerged victorious in their first encounter in 1971, dropping Ali in the 15th round of their “Fight of the Century” to retain his world heavyweight title, Ali sought revenge in their second fight, a 12-round affair three years later. Frazier had previously lost his world title to George Foreman, but when Ali triumphed over the formidable Foreman in 1974’s famous “Rumble in the Jungle,” attention turned back to their unfinished business. Their rivalry demanded a decisive third fight, regardless of the toll it would take on their bodies.

The Thrilla in Manila took place in the early morning to accommodate American

 

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