Thrilla in Manila
|Date||October 1, 1975|
Quezon City, Philippines
|Title(s) on the line||WBC/WBA Heavyweight Championship
Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship
|Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier|
|The Greatest||Smokin' Joe|
|Tale of the tape|
|Louisville, Kentucky||From||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|48–2 (35 KO)||Pre-fight record||32–2 (27 KO)|
|6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)||Height||5 ft 11.5 in (1.82 m)|
|224 lb (102 kg)||Weight||215 lb (98 kg)|
|WBC/WBA Heavyweight Champion
Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion
|Result||Ali won via TKO
after the 14th round
The Thrilla in Manila was the third and final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It was contested in 1975 for the Heavyweight Championship of the World at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday, October 1. The contest's name is derived from the frequent rhyming boast made by Ali that the fight would be a "killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila."
The first bout between Frazier and Ali took place on March 8, 1971, in New York's Madison Square Garden. Frazier was the champion and won by unanimous decision over previously undefeated Ali in a fast-paced, 15-round bout, with Frazier scoring the fight's (and trilogy's) only knockdown, at the beginning of the final round.
When the rivals met in a January 1974 rematch, neither was champion; Frazier had suffered a second round knockout at the hands of George Foreman a year earlier and Ali had split two bouts with Ken Norton. In a promotional appearance before the second fight, the two had gotten into a scuffle in an ABC studio during an interview segment with Howard Cosell. In the second round, Ali stung Frazier with a hard right hand, which backed him up. Referee Tony Peres stepped between the fighters, signifying the end of the round, even though there were about 25 seconds left. In so doing, he gave Frazier time to regain his bearings and continue fighting. Peres also failed to contain Ali's tactic of illegally holding and pulling down his opponent's neck in the clinches, which helped Ali to smother Frazier, and gain him the 12-round decision. This became a major issue in selecting the referee for the Manila bout.
Pre-fight promotions and training
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos sought to hold the bout in Metro Manila and sponsor it in order to divert attention from the social turmoil that the country was experiencing, having declared martial law three years earlier (1972).
In the lead-up to the Manila fight as well as each of their other two encounters, Frazier was made to withstand a withering barrage of verbal abuse from Ali. Ali's theme this fight was to hang a nickname on Frazier as he had done to many of his opponents throughout the years. The name he chose was "The Gorilla", and he rhymed out the singsong chant "It will be a Killa and a Thrilla and a Chilla when I get The Gorilla in Manila." while punching an action-figure-sized gorilla doll. Ali explained to reporter Dick Schaap that it was part of a longstanding pre-fight strategy of his: "I like to get a man mad, because when a man's mad, he wants ya so bad, he can't think, so I like to get a man mad." This strategy worked in Ali's favor in his defeat of George Foreman, who seemed to explode with rage every round until he had exhausted himself. Frazier was different, for he had not only skill, but confidence, stamina and the character to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances. Dave Wolf (who was a member of the Frazier team in Manila) further explained: "With all of the residue of anger that Joe had from what had happened before the first fight, what had happened before and during the second fight and after these fights, Joe was ready to lay his life on the line, and... he did."
Ali's fight preparations were badly distracted in the days leading up to the fight. The trouble began when Ali introduced his mistress, Veronica Porsche, to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as his wife at a public event. This angered his wife, Belinda Ali, who saw the introduction on television back in the States. Mrs. Ali subsequently flew to Manila, where she engaged her husband in a prolonged shouting match in his hotel suite.
In the Frazier camp, trainer Eddie Futch made the decision that the hordes of people and the tension in the steaming hot city were a poor environment to prepare in. Thus, Frazier completed his training for what was to be his final shot at the championship in a lush, quiet setting in the mountainous outskirts of the city of Manila. There, he led a spartan existence often sitting for hours in a contemplative state in preparation for the bout.
Fight strategy and referee selection
Frazier cornerman Eddie Futch's main preoccupation heading into the Manila bout lay in preventing Ali from repeating the illegal tactic of holding Frazier behind the neck to create extended clinches. Ali used this tactic to effectively keep Frazier from getting inside, and enable himself to get needed rest during his victory in their second meeting. By Futch's count Ali had done this 133 times in that fight without being penalized. He also did it while facing the taller Foreman in his defeat of him in Zaire, leaving little doubt as to his intentions for the upcoming bout in Manila. Sensing trouble, Futch moved to block (Ali-Foreman ref) Zach Clayton as referee by enlisting the aid of Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. The Mayor refused to let Clayton out of his duties as a Philadelphia civil service employee to go referee the fight. Futch also warned Filipino authorities that Ali was going to mar what was to be a great event for their nation by constantly tying up Frazier illegally. He advised them to assign one of their countrymen to referee the bout, stressing that this would reflect well on the Philippines, and be a source of pride for its people. Futch and Filipino officials (who bought in heavily to the idea) brushed aside complaints from Don King that a Filipino referee would be too small to handle a heavyweight fight. This resulted in the appointment of Filipino Carlos Padilla, Jr.
As for the fight strategy, Futch and his assistant, George Benton thought the key to the fight would be Frazier's persistent attack on Ali's body, including punches to the hips when Ali effectively covered up his torso along the ropes. Benton related: "my expression to Joe was what you've got to do is stay on top of him, and hit the son of a bitch anywhere, hit him on the hips, hit him on the legs. You hit him anywhere!"
Indeed, Frazier's strategy was the epitome of the old boxing axiom "if you kill the body, the head will die." As he described it: "Once I've stopped your organs—when those kidneys and liver stop functioning, he can't move so fast... The organs in his body have to be functioning. If you slow them down, he cannot do what he wants to do."
The Ali camp used the championship as leverage in negotiations, and won out on two key points. The ring size of 21 feet (6.4 m) square allowed him the ability to move and circle the ring if he so chose, which would enable him to use his superior boxing skills to his advantage. He also got his preference for 8-ounce (230 g) gloves, which were smaller and less padded than those used in most heavyweight bouts. According to Ali's ring Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali planned to take advantage of Frazier's well-earned reputation as a slow starter, and use his superior reach and hand speed to attack Frazier exclusively with punches to the head in the early rounds in the hopes of scoring a knockout, or at least doing enough damage to Frazier to prevent him from fighting effectively as the bout wore on.
The fight took place at 10 AM local time, in order to accommodate an international viewing audience. Though it served the business interests of the fight, it was detrimental to the fighters. Ali's ring physician Ferdie Pacheco explains: "'At 10 AM the stickiness of the night was still there, but cooked by the sun. So what you got is boiling water for atmosphere." Denise Menz, who was part of Frazier's contingent, said of the conditions inside the aluminum roofed Araneta Coliseum: "It was so intensely hot, I've never before felt heat like that in my life. Not a breath of air—nothing. And that was sitting there. Can you imagine being in the ring? I don't know how they did it." Frazier estimated the ring temperature at more than 120 °F (49 °C), taking into account the effect of additional lights used for purposes of televising the fight. Ali would later say that he had lost 5 pounds (2.3 kg) that morning due to severe dehydration caused by the conditions.
When the fighters and their cornermen met at the center of the ring for the referee's instructions, Ali continued his verbal assault on Joe Frazier, finishing with the taunt: "You don't have it, Joe, you don't have it! I'm going to put you away!" In response, Frazier smiled and said 'We'll see."
Ali was sharp early, as the notoriously slow starter, Frazier, could not bob and weave his way inside of Ali's jab. Ali won the first two rounds decisively. He kept his man in the center of the ring, and landed more than a few straight right hands behind the jab. Frazier was wobbled or at least knocked off-balance by solid punches twice in the early going. Commenting for the U.S. television audience, Don Dunphy summed up the early action stating: "Ali with his fast hands and sharp shooting keeps it his way." Viewing the fight for the first time some 31 years later, Frazier said simply: "Too far away, needed to get closer."
Ali also continued to attack his opponent verbally—most noticeably so in the 3rd round when he was riding high, and had plenty left in the tank. Referee Carlos Padilla recounted Ali's recital of pugilistic nursery rhymes to Frazier thus: "During the fight he would say 'Ah one ah two and a three... Jack be nimble and Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick. Is that all you can give? Come on, you ugly gorilla—hit me!'" He would then wave Frazier on, making a circular gesture with his right hand.
Round 3 served as an inflection point in the contest. Ali began his rope-a-dope, which was a strategy for him to get needed rest for his legs along the ropes while his opponent expended energy throwing punches. When it was effective, Ali would eventually spin off the ropes and unleash a volley of punches in rapid succession against an arm-weary opponent. In Manila, it did not work out that way. Frazier landed his first good body punches of the fight in the 3rd round with Ali pinned in the corner. Due to his general lack of reach and arthritic right elbow, Frazier needed to be right on top of Ali to land with frequency, and the rope-a-dope enabled him to do that. About two minutes into the round, a frustrated Ali came out swinging, throwing a succession of hard punches in anger, many of which missed their mark. Commenting for the BBC, Harry Carpenter told his audience: "I don't know when I've seen Ali in as aggressive a mood as this, he really looks as if he wants to nail Frazier to the canvas for once and all."
The 5th round was a signal round for Frazier. The timing and rhythm of his bobbing and weaving action improved. He was able to avoid the oncoming fists of the champion and for the first time in the fight, land solid left hooks to Ali's head. Ali spent much of the round along the ropes. According to his trainer, Angelo Dundee, this "was the worst thing he could do because he's making Joe pick up momentum where he could drive those shots to the body." Ali's method of self-defense also worsened noticeably in the fifth. Boxing journalist Jerry Izenberg, who was ringside, said, "Somewhere about the 4th or 5th round Joe hit him with a right hand—I didn't think Joe could tie his shoes with his right hand—and Ali pulls back and says 'You don't have no right hand, you can't do that.' and bing! he hits him with another right hand. Suddenly Ali had to think 'Well there are two hands in this fight on the other side'-that was very important." His guard also visibly lowered in this round as a result of the vicious body attack he was absorbing. The net effect was that Ali became much more exposed to Frazier's most lethal punch–the left hook.
Shortly after the bell rang to start the 6th round Frazier landed a thunderous left hook which thudded against the right side of Ali's face. Ali was knocked back by the force of the blow, and landed in the ropes behind him. He did not appear dazed or groggy, but was visibly stiff in his body movements while backing away from the oncoming Frazier, and continuing to throw punches of his own. Seconds later, Frazier landed a tremendous, whipping left hook to Ali's head. Again Ali landed in the ropes behind him, but he only gave appearance of being slightly dazed, and stiff legged. Though he had taken blows that would have felled a lesser or less committed fighter, Ali remained standing and was able to finish the round without being knocked down. Years later, watching the event on video, Frazier shook his head at the sight of Ali withstanding the powerful blows. Jerry Izenberg observed "They were tremendous hooks, and you have to understand, normal fighters would not have continued—it would have been over." According to Ed Schuyler of Associated Press, who was present at ringside, Ali reacted to Frazier's sixth-round barrage by saying (at the start of the next round), "They told me Joe Frazier was washed up," to which Frazier retorted: "They lied."
As the bout wore on it became clear that despite his belief in the rope-a-dope, when Ali had his back against the ropes, Frazier had the advantage. Smokin' Joe was able to wear down his opponent with body punches, left hooks to the head, and occasionally, short, chopping right hands. Meanwhile, the long-armed champion had a difficult time getting much power into his punches while fighting on the inside. Dundee, who detested the rope a dope (never more so than in Manila) constantly beseeched his fighter to "get off the goddamn ropes!" Beginning at the start of round 7, Ali managed to do so effectively for about a round and a half, and was able to best Frazier in exhausting toe-to-toe exchanges during the opening minute of round 8 – described on the telecast as "a big rally by Ali." Later in that round, an arm-weary Ali began to be beaten to the punch by the challenger. During the final minute of round 8, Ali sagged against the ropes in a neutral corner as Frazier landed a series of punches to his body and head. On the broadcast, Dunphy excitedly told his audience: "Frazier may have evened up the round!" with about 30 seconds to go.
At the close of a very trying ninth round, a visibly tired Ali went back to his corner, and told his trainer: "Man, this is the closest I've ever been to dying." In the opposite corner, Frazier was suffering from pronounced swelling about the face – the result of an accumulation of hundreds of punches exclusively aimed at his head. For Frazier, who was nearly blind in his left eye since a training accident in 1965, this was a calamitous development. After an 11th round, in which Ali landed frequently, Eddie Futch confronted his charge, asking him: "What's with this right-hand business?" In response, Frazier indicated that he could not see some of the punches he was being hit with. At this point, Futch gave him what turned out to be poor advice – he told his fighter to stand more upright when approaching Ali rather than continuing his usual bobbing and weaving style. Ali seized upon this immediately in Round 12. With his back to the ropes, he threw many punches with both hands that landed accurately, and did still more damage to Frazier's limited eyesight. Adding to Frazier's problems was his corner's inability to maintain a functional icebag to apply to his eye past the middle rounds because of the oppressive heat inside Araneta Coliseum. As Frazier rose from his stool to contest Round 13 he was a combatant who could barely see.
The main turning point of the fight came very late. It came midway through the thirteenth round when one of two tremendous right-hand smashes sent the gum shield sailing out of Frazier's mouth. The sight of this man actually moving backwards seemed to inspire Ali. I swear he hit Frazier with thirty tremendous punches – each one as hard as those which knocked out George Foreman in Zaire – during the fourteenth round. He was dredging up all his own last reserves of power to make sure there wouldn't have to be a fifteenth round.
Seeing the 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 replied, "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today", and signaled to referee Carlos Padilla, Jr. to end the bout. In his corner between the 14th and 15th rounds, Ali ordered cornerman Herbert Muhammad to cut his gloves off, saying he was through, an order ignored by his trainer and seconds. Ali would later claim that this was the closest to dying he had ever been.
The Philippines' first multi-level commercial shopping mall was named after Muhammad Ali as a tribute to his victory. The mall is named "Ali Mall" and is located in Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City right beside the Araneta Coliseum in which the "Thrilla in Manila" took place. It still stands today.
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