Muhammad Ali had left us but his spirit will live on inspiring countless more, including ones in the coming generations. Through his colorful words, humanitarian work, and of course, legendary fights, The Greatest's imprint on the world will never fade away.
One iconic Ali ring moment that holds a special place in the hearts of Filipinos is his 1975 encounter with Joe Frazier aka the "Thrilla in Manila." To celebrate his life and his special bond with the Philippines, FHM hit the archives for an in-depth look at one of the most memorable bouts in boxing history.
They first squared off in 1971. The contest, dubbed "The Fight of the Century," was spectacularly won by Smokin' Joe, most notably because of the vicious knockdown he scored in the 15th round. It was the first time Ali tasted defeat as a professional.
Three years later, the "Louisville Lip" evened things up with a unanimous, 12-round victory over the Philadelphia slugger. Despite having gotten to blow off steam on two separate occasions, the rivalry remained acrimonious—especially on Joe's part. A tiebreaker just had to happen.
The decider, billed "Thrilla in Manila," would take place on October 1, 1975 at the Araneta Coliseum. Ali was the champion and Frazier was the challenger—a role reversal from their collision four years prior. The result: a dramatic 14th round TKO victory for Muhammad Ali.
Ali - Frazier 3
Ali started real strong, seen almost finishing off Frazier in the early goings with scorching right straights and picturesque uppercuts. But then the pugilist from Philly got his bearings and started targeting the champ's body and jaw with destructive hooks. The middle rounds were clearly in favor of Joe.
In the final stretch, it was almost miraculous how Ali mustered enough energy to unleash ultra-sharp combinations that got Frazier reeling and his mouthpiece flying. By the end of Round 14, Joe was virtually fighting blind, forcing his corner to throw in the towel.
Eddie Futch cared for his fighter's life more than winning a boxing match. He told the referee they're done despite Frazier's pleas to go on fighting. It was a painful decision but Futch was certain he made the right call.
The boxing world agrees. As a matter of fact, the Hall-of-Fame trainer is revered for his compassionate judgment in that crucial sequence. Futch laid out the blueprint of what a boxing coach should be. One guy who has followed his principles? His former student and Manny Pacquiao's enduring coach, Freddie Roach.
By 1974, stemming from a freak injury he suffered in the gym back in the '60s, Frazier had developed cataracts which rendered his left eye partially blind. His vision was basically cut in half when he fought in Manila. It was perhaps the main reason his trainer stopped the carnage upon seeing Joe's right eye swollen shut at the end of the 14th round. Futch loved his student too much to let him risk life and limb in the final frame.
Willie "The Worm" Monroe
Who is Willie Monroe? Back in the day, The Worm was a middleweight boxer who held a fluke win over Marvin Hagler. A member of Team Frazier, he claimed seeing Ali about to quit in the 14th round but failed to convey the message to his corner as he was positioned on the other end of the ring. It's a story that led many to believe—including Joe—that had Eddie Futch waited just for another second, Ali would've been the first to waive the white flag. "The Greatest's" trainer Angelo Dundee and his physician Ferdie Pacheco have refuted Monroe's statements.
The Worm (right)
"In all my years in boxing I'd never known such heat," Dundee recalled.
It was literally a heated battle. Aside from the thudding blows, Ali and Frazier had to endure the scalding temperature inside the coliseum. According to the former's cornerman Dr. Pacheco, it was so hot in there that it made breathing difficult for him. Mainly due to the building being packed all the way up to the rafters and the event being held at 10:45 in the morning to accommodate the live primetime telecast in the United States, the boxers fought in an unusually tough environment.
It was an ultimate battle of attrition not only against each other but also against the unforgiving fighting conditions. No wonder Ali had this to say about the experience: "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of."
Leading up to Manila, everyone was expecting Ali to run over Frazier. The thinking was Smokin' Joe was pretty much washed up considering he had been brutally KO'd by George Foreman, while his opponent was seen as a revitalized fighter with his stoppage victory over the same, dreaded fighter.
Even Ali thought his nemesis had nothing left to give.
Rumor has it that Muhammad saw the fight as an opportunity to spend time with his lady love at the time, Veronica Porsche, whom he would marry two years later. What casual fans and Ali's camp didn't know, however, was how hard Frazier had trained and how serious he was about beating the champion.
"I want to hurt him. If I knock him down, I'll stand back, give him a chance to breathe. It's his heart I want," Joe fumed.
He delivered a shockingly great performance and Muhammad's tremendous response made up for a fight to remember.
Some argue that then-President Ferdinand Marcos' sole purpose for bringing Ali-Frazier III to Manila is to cover up the turmoil the country had been entrenched in. Nevertheless, we're glad Thrilla in Manila happened. At a reception held at the Malacañang Palace, Ali came with Veronica Porsche to meet the chief of state. Marcos noticed the stunner beside the boxer and paid her a compliment, saying, "Your wife is quite beautiful."
Muhammad failed to correct the president's assumption, as he was still married to his second wife, Khalila "Belinda" Ali, at the time. After that incident, his affair with Porsche was exposed internationally. Belinda took notice, headed straight to Manila and gave Ali an appetizer of what Joe had in store for him.
Perhaps the critics were right in believing that Joe was a spent fighter heading into the bout. If only Ali didn't give his opponent so much reason to seethe in rage, Frazier might have not been able to give such an amazing showing. From all the trash talk Muhammad hurled at him—calling him Gorilla, Uncle Tom—to all the crazy pranks (pointing a fake gun outside of his hotel window), Joe took it to heart and made it his life's mission to punish his rival in the ring.
It was truly an ugly sight to see Frazier express his hatred towards Ali up until the Philly legend's latter years. To the champ's credit, he had apologized publicly for ridiculing Joe, citing it was all an act to throw his counterpart off his game as well as to promote the fight.
Ali was booed
Local fans heckled Ali in the outset probably because we Filipinos naturally love underdogs and find outlandish statements unappealing. Still, he won over the crowd as he displayed his heart of steel throughout the war.
Watch Philippine sportscasting icon Joe Cantada at the 11:47 mark introducing a surprised Muhammad as the audience was jeering him.
A Filipino stood in the ring with Ali and Frazier
The Thrilla in Manila became the launch pad for a Filipino referee's international career. For Carlos Padilla, it was the start of officiating a heap of big time prize fights.
After the fight, Muhammad Ali ended the trash talk. The outspoken champ's competitive fire was completely replaced with sincere admiration for his adversary.
"Man, I hit him with punches that would bring down the walls of a city. Lordy, he's great! Joe Frazier is one hell of a man. If God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me," Ali said.
Although he never fully forgave Muhammad for his vitriolic pre-fight hype job, their Manila encounter made Joe acknowledge his opponent as a warrior.
"He shook me in Manila. We were gladiators. I didn't ask no favors of him and he didn't ask none of me. I don't like him but I gotta say, in the ring, he was a man. In Manila, I hit him punches, those punches, they'd have knocked a building down. And he took 'em. He took 'em and he came back, and I got to respect that part of the man," Frazier commented.