Muhammad Ali's third fight against his archrival Joe Frazier was a spectacular ending to the long lasting struggle of the two Heavyweights who faced each other for a total of 132 minutes in the ring. The "Thrilla in Manila" is considered one of the most brutal and bitter bouts in the history of boxing; it was the only time an Ali - Frazier bout did not last for the scheduled time.
After having regained the title against George Foreman in Zaire one year earlier, Ali had successfully defended the belt three times within three months against mostly mediocre opponents. Now he was to face Joe Frazier for the third time to change the record to his favor (Frazier had won the first bout in 1971, Ali prevailed in the rematch three years later).
The bout was important for Ali not only in terms of prestige. He was guaranteed a purse of six million dollars which was twice as much as Joe's and more than Ali had received for the first two fights altogether.
As usual, Ali didn't miss a chance to verbally attack his foe in the days leading to the bout. This time it was worse than ever: He gave Frazier the nickname "Gorilla", called him ignorant and mocked him because of his ghetto slang. Frazier reciprocated with untypically bellicose statements: "I want to hurt him. I don't want to knock him out. I want to take his heart out."
Finally, the day of the fight was there. On the morning of October 1 (the fight took place at 10:45 a.m. to suit US viewers) 25,000 people crowded the Philippines Coliseum in Quezon City, six miles outside Manila, hoping for a great fight between stylist and slugger.
As expected, Ali puts pressure on Frazier in the beginning, stinging him with jabs and combinations to the head, winning the first rounds. Frazier does not lose hope - he knows his time is still to come. He keeps smiling as he takes Ali's punches and retaliates with punches to Ali's arms and body, once in a while a hook gets through to Ali's head.
With about a third of the fight over, the tide slowly turns. Ali tires and Joe's punches hit target more often. The champion rests at the ropes like he did against Foreman. This time, however, the 'rope-a-dope' can not be successful because it is part of Frazier's tactic to batter Ali's arms until they are hurting to the extent that taking a blow is less painful than blocking it. Frazier tires too and by round ten both fighters show clear signs of fatigue, fighting at low pace. Angelo Dundee said after the fight: "Both guys ran out of gas, only my guy had an extra tank"
Where Ali took the energy to come back in the heat and humidity of the Coliseum and hit Frazier worse than anyone had hit him before, has been subject to speculations ever since. "Ali's magic" appeared for the last time in his career. From round twelve on, Frazier sees no land. In round thirteen his mouthpiece is knocked out of his mouth and out of the ring. So are his winning chances. By round fourteen, Joe's left eye is completely shut so that he is not able to see Ali throwing a right hand any more.
In the break before the last round, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch stops the fight. Too dominating, too far ahead had Ali been on the scorecards, too handicapped was Joe in terms of his vision to have any chance of winning. Moments after the fight was over, Ali fainted in his corner. No one knows whether he could have resumed the fight. Ali was later quoted that he had been ready to quit if Joe had not.
Both Ali and Frazier fought to their absolute limit and maybe beyond. Joe's eyes were still shut hours after the fight. Ali's body showed conspicuous signs of the battle, with hematomas and bruises and swellings everywhere, as a result of "punches that would have knocked down a house" as Joe later put it. Ali is supposed to have told Angelo Dundee yet during the fight that this was "the closest to dying" he had ever been.
Friends and fans of the champion hoped Ali would finally after this slaughter in the ring, at the age of 33, announce his retirement. However, six more years would pass until this wish became reality at last. In the last ten bouts of his career, following the "Thrilla in Manila", Ali would never again be as good as he was in Manila on the morning of October 1.
vs. Sonny Liston (I) - vs. Sonny Liston (II) - vs.Joe Frazier (I) - vs.George Foreman - vs. Joe Frazier (III)
© 2000 by J. Ehrmann