From THE RING Magazine: In the fighters’ words
ALI AND FRAZIER AGREED THAT THEY WENT TO HELL AND BACK TOGETHER
This story appeared in the November 2015 edition of THE RING Magazine.
In 1989, I sat on the sofa in my living room with Muhammad Ali beside me and watched a tape of his October 1, 1975, fight against Joe Frazier.
Boxing fans are familiar with what happened on that hot, humid morning in Manila.
The early rounds belonged to Ali. He outboxed Frazier, landed sharp, clean punches, and staggered Joe several times. Frazier kept coming inexorably forward.
The tide turned in the middle rounds. Ali was tiring. Frazier rocked him with thunderous blows. Muhammad’s arms came down and Joe bludgeoned him against the ropes, pounding, pounding.
Ali regained the initiative in Round 12, wobbled Frazier and measured him for more. One round later, a jolting left hook knocked Joe’s mouthpiece into the crowd. Frazier was shaken but finished the round.
In Round 14, Ali resumed his assault. Frazier’s left eye was completely closed. The vision in his right eye was limited. He was spitting blood. Ali’s punches were landing cleanly. Joe couldn’t see them coming.
Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight after the 14th round.
Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler later recalled, “The Thriller in Manila was the best fight I’ve ever seen. As it unfolded, everybody at ringside understood they were watching greatness. The pace never eased. It was hell the whole way. I’ve never seen two people give more, ever.”
Jerry Izenberg observed, “What it came down to wasn’t the heavyweight championship of the world. Ali and Frazier were fighting for something more important than that. They were fighting for the championship of each other.”
I’d watched tapes of many fights with Muhammad sitting beside me prior to watching Ali-Frazier III. We’d been reviewing his career in chronological order for a book I was writing, “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.”
This was different.
Despite the fact that it was one of his greatest ring triumphs, there was no joy in Muhammad’s face as we watched Ali-Frazier III unfold.
In the past, we’d sat together and witnessed Henry Cooper knocking Cassius Clay close to oblivion with a picture-perfect left hook. That had seemed to entertain Muhammad.
We’d seen Joe Frazier put Ali on the canvas in Round 15 of their first encounter at Madison Square Garden and Ken Norton break Muhammad’s jaw. Those punches were safely ensconced in the annals of history, as were the thudding blows that George Foreman landed in Zaire.
Watching Ali-Frazier III, Muhammad seemed to be re-experiencing the pain. Sitting beside me, he winced as some of Joe’s blows landed. When the tape ended, he turned to me and said, “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight anymore.”
Joe had his own memories of Manila when he and I talked.
“We were gladiators,” Frazier told me. “I didn’t ask no favors of him and he didn’t ask none of me. I don’t like him but I got to say, in the ring he was a man. In Manila, I hit him punches, those punches, they’d of 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. He was a fighter. He shook me in Manila. He won. But I sent him home worse than he came.”
Physically, neither man was the same after Manila. They both won and they both lost.
Forty years later, “The Thrilla in Manila” stands as a symbol of what’s best and worst about boxing.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book – “Thomas Hauser on Boxing” – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.