By Frank Lotierzo
July 1975 through October 1, 1975
With Bugner out of the way, Ali vs. Frazier III was on. This time the winner would have the historical bragging rights over the other. In what was a complete role reversal after their first fight, Ali was on top of the world and Frazier was looking in. By the time they arrived in the Philippines, Ali had evened the score with Frazier winning their rematch and regained the title from Foreman, the man responsible for making Frazier the ex-champ. It wasn't until Ali beat Frazier and Foreman in back-to-back fights in 1974 that he began to be acknowledged as the greatest or at least one of them.
In the four years that passed since "The Fight Of The Century" Frazier's passionate dislike and ill will towards Ali was in full bloom. Not only did he feel he never got his just due for beating him in 1971, he felt he was cheated out of the decision in their 1974 rematch. The fact that Ali reduced Foreman to looking like an amateur after he stopped Frazier, was something Ali never let Joe forget. Frazier's disdain for Ali was so much that he told Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News before the fight, that he would've fought Ali for nothing, that's how bad he wanted to get him in the ring. If Frazier hadn't already been pushed to the brink by Ali's antics, he had a surprise waiting for him when they got to the Quezon City, six miles outside of Manila.
One of Ali's pre-fight blows came at a press conference when he broke with his latest poem ridiculing Frazier. Ali recited, "It will be a killa, And a chilla, And a thrilla, When I get the Gorilla in Manila, while he took a little toy rubber gorilla doll out of his shirt pocket, saying this is the way Joe Frazier looks when you hit him, while hitting the doll with short rights. While Frazier sat on the dais smoldering inside within ten feet of him. Ali was about to encounter an unforeseen problem besides Joe. At a dinner held in honor of the two fighters upon their arrival, Ali had shown up at the Malacauang Palace with his girlfriend Veronica Porsche. President Fernand Marcos commented "you have a beautiful wife," However, Ali didn't correct him letting him know she wasn't his wife who was back in the states. When his wife Belinda got word of what happened with Marcos, she got on the next plane to the Philippines to track down and confront her husband.
As Ali continued to recite his poem about the Gorilla in Manila, Frazier responded sometimes saying, "go tell him to scare Belinda, because he don't scare me." The constant insults thrown at Frazier by Ali cut him deeply and he made no attempt to hide it. Telling Ali a few days before the fight while walking out of the Malacauang Palace with their handlers between them, Joe leaned over and said "I'm gonna whup your half breed ass."
Frazier, just as in the first two meetings was all business. His training was purposeful and deliberate. He arrived in the Philippines with the intent of destroying Ali once and for all. Ali, viewed this fight more as a get away trip with Veronica, while making an easy six-million dollars to send a faded Joe Frazier into retirement. Once again as he did in their first fight, Ali underestimated Frazier and how psyched up Joe got to fight him.
There was news surrounding the actual fight, pertaining to both fighters adding some new things to their arsenal for the fight to assure victory. Frazier was said to have developed a more conventional right hand to the head. Joe's signature punch was his left-hook thrown to the body or head. His right to the body was terrific, but nothing special when thrown up top. In the other corner, Ali was said to be hitting with more power than he did in their first two fights. The thought of both fighters having changed their style at age 33 and 31 was met with skepticism by Eddie Futch, Frazier's trainer, who said Ali will find out before the end of the first round that he can't punch with Joe and go back to what he does best. To that Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, said "Joe Frazier can't box a lick. He'll fight my guy the only way he can."
On Tuesday morning Oct 1, 1975, in the Quezon City, The Philippines, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were summoned to the ring to settle the feud Ali started by saying to Frazier, "you're too short to give me any real trouble eight years earlier." The fight started at 10:45 am local time so it could be shown in the States at 11:00 PM. Frazier, who had weighed in two days earlier at 215 pounds, 9 1/2 more than he did in their first fight, entered the ring first as the challenger. Ali was also was 9 1/2 pounds heavier than he was for their first fight at 224 1/2, entered a minute or two after Frazier. Ali was so nonchalant in his approach, he looked like he was about to watch a movie, instead of fighting the toughest opponent he'd ever fought.
Before the official introductions, Ali was looking down conversing with his manager Herbert Muhammad. When he spotted a bottle of Mineral water on his lap, he said, "Watcha got there Herbert? Gin! You don't need any of that. Just another days work. I'm gonna put a whuppin on this nigger's head." After both fighters were introduced they were brought to center ring by referee Carlos Padilla, who some in the press thought at 160 pounds was too small to control the fight. While he was delivering his final instructions, Ali chirpped away as he looked down at Frazier saying what he was gonna do to him, with Frazier looking back at him with a half scowl half smirk.
At the bell, Ali came out for round one almost in contempt of Frazier, fighting flatfooted at center ring and started unloading with straight lefts and rights as he stepped back to try and time Joe as he was moving in. For the first time, Ali looked much bigger than Frazier physically. It appeared that Ali was carrying the 225 pounds well and looked strong. During the opening round he stunned Frazier two or three times with lead rights, one of his more effective weapons offensively. The second round was the same with Ali timing Frazier with quick, but hard one-twos having his feet planted while he cut loose. Although he was shook again and his legs buckled once, Frazier kept forcing it. The third was the same only instead of Ali tying Frazier up around the head, he stuck his left straight out to hold Frazier off. At one point in the round, Ali let Joe force him into a corner and did the rope-a-dope for about half a minute, and then opened up with a savage two handed assault that had Joe shook and on the defensive when the round ended.
In round four Frazier got a little closer and had some success getting Ali to the ropes, but Ali was still landing the cleaner and crisper punches. In the fifth Ali fought off the ropes in his own corner as Frazier was landing with his thudding left-hooks to Ali's chin and body. At the end of the round Ali tried to explode with a shoe-shine type flurry like he did in the third, but this time Frazier was not overwhelmed by it.
The fight turned in the sixth when Frazier uncoiled with a left hook that caught Ali on his chin and straightened his head up. Joe clearly grabbed the momentum and forced Ali to retreat and worked him back to the ropes and started going to the body from both sides and finishing up to the head. One of Ali's greatest strengths was his remarkable recuperative powers. In the seventh round he came out circling and jabbing and managed to stay a step or two ahead of Frazier while scoring with jabs and crosses to take the round. If there was ever an even round in boxing history, it was the eighth. Ali came out and blasted
Frazier with lead rights and straight lefts and uppercuts. At one point he had Frazier's back on the ropes while pot shotting him with both hands. However, Frazier stabilized himself and managed to walk Ali down. A little over the half way point of the round, Frazier started to turn the tide. When the round ended, Frazier was cleaning up on Ali to the body and head.
In rounds nine and ten, Frazier had Ali pinned against the ropes during chunks of the round, working him over. Just when it looked as if Frazier was on his way to a big round, Ali sprang off the ropes timing Frazier with counter rights and short hooks inside as Joe tried to keep Ali against the ropes. Although the round was scored for Frazier, Ali had his moments in it. The eleventh round saw Ali open up fast as he managed to back Frazier against the ropes. Once again Frazier was able to force Ali back and while on the ropes they had some great exchanges with neither fighter gaining the advantage.
After the eleventh round, the fight was even with Ali possibly having the edge by a point. In the twelfth round Ali seemed to get some spring back in his legs and began landing some hard straight lefts and rights from outside, preventing Frazier from getting inside where he is the most effective. In round 13 Ali sent Joe's mouthpiece into press-row in what turned out to be one of the most dominant rounds Ali ever fought against Frazier, landing flush rights behind his jabs that didn't miss. Frazier was now more upright as he tried to get inside, making himself more of a target for Ali's straight lefts and rights. The fourteenth round was worse than the previous round. Joe was slowed to a walk. With his punches having lost there zing, Ali hit Frazier's swollen head and face at will, as Joe was too tired to attempt making him miss.
Frazier's legs buckled from a right at the end of the round as he walked back to his corner on shaky legs.
In between the fourteenth and fifteenth rounds, Eddie Futch, Frazier's trainer, said he was stopping the fight. Telling Joe he no longer could see Ali's punches in the last two rounds, what makes you think you're gonna see them in the fifteenth. Joe said, "I want him boss," and protested the fight being stopped. Futch replied, "Sit down son, It's all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today." Ali stood up and raised his hands when he realized the fight was over, then dropped to the canvas in what was sheer exhaustion along with relief.
After the fight, both fighters were extremely cordial and complimentary of each other. In his room at a Villa a couple miles away, "Man, I hit him with punches that'd bring down the walls of a city," Frazier said, "Lawdy, Lawdy, he's a great champion." When Ali came down to meet with the press, he talked about how sore and tired he was and about retiring. The next morning in his suite, Ali said, "I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him."
In a perfect boxing world, two or three months after Manila, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier would've held a joint press conference announcing their retirement from boxing. That would have been the perfect ending to boxing's most storied rivalry. The Ali-Frazier heavyweight trilogy is the only one in history in which both fighters are two of the ten greatest heavyweight champs of all time. Seldom have two big men fought three fights against each other at the level they did. Today, if two heavyweight's fought a fight as good as their second bout, it would be considered remarkable. I suggest anyone doubting this to get a copy of the closed circuit call of Super-Fight II with Don Dunphy providing the blow-by-blow commentary The ESPN Superbout version of the fight is awful and distorts the fight.
The undeniable truth is, Ali and Frazier ruined each other in Manila. Frazier only fought twice, losing to Foreman in 1976 and five years later fighting to a draw with Jumbo Cummings. Ali fought ten times after Manila going 7-3. However, other than the last 30 seconds of the 15th round in his last successful title defense against Earnie Shavers at Madison Square Garden, he was never great in the ring again.
When the "Thrilla In Manila" ended, it was probably a big relief for Ali fans and hell for the Frazier fans. The Ali fans finally got what they had hoped for since March 9, 1971, the day Ali could claim bragging rights over Frazier. Something that would've been hard for them to claim in their head-to-head match up without the Manila fight. To this day there are some who believe Frazier won their first two fights and there are those who think Ali won them. Personally, I don't think there's a case for Frazier in the second fight and there's less of one for Ali in the first fight.
That's why the Manila fight was huge. Both fighters knew what was on the line. The guy who goes down 1-2, finishes second in their match up. However, this is the one time that finishing second never has had more value. The record book may read Ali 2-1 over Frazier, but it's closer than that. Frazier gave Ali life and death in all three fights, including their second fight. Their 1974 bout wasn't the waltz for Ali that some view it as being. Other than the right hand in the second round Ali hurt Frazier with, Joe was never in trouble again during the fight. In fact, after eight rounds Frazier was in the fight. He even waved Ali out to start the ninth round before the bell from his corner with a big grin on his face.
But this is where Ali's true genius and greatness lie, taking a Joe Frazier to push him to where he needs to call on them to survive and win. Just when it appeared Frazier was really "Smokin" and taking the play from Ali, he did what he did better than any other heavyweight who has yet lived, that's suck it up in the big spot.
Ali came out and raked Joe in the first minute of the ninth round after getting worked over to the head and body in the seventh and eighth, giving Frazier the momentum. That was the turning point of that fight. Just as in their first fight, Ali got out to an early lead. True to form, Frazier came on because it's takes so much out of a fighter trying to box and hold Joe off, they gotta come up for air. When they do, they pay for not having the strength for not being able to keep him off of them. With the momentum appearing to be shifting in favor of Frazier the ninth round was pivotal. That's why Ali coming out and firing hard jabs and stopping to plant, cutting lose with hard right crosses and short hooks and uppercuts was able to hold Joe off and slow him down. From that point on, they traded rounds resulting in Ali legitimately earning the decision, 7-5 in rounds.
The "Thrilla In Manila" was the most physically grueling and brutal fight of the Ali-Frazier trilogy. It was really three fights in one. Ali got the better of Joe from rounds one through five, Frazier got the better of it from round six through 10, with 11th being very close and could've been scored for either man. In the 12th Ali got what had to be his third or fourth wind and began catching Frazier as he was coming in with stiff lefts and rights, making it hard for Frazier to get inside. In round 13 Ali hit Frazier with a right cross that stopped him in his tracks, sending his mouthpiece into press row. If there is a round in which Ali's size, strength and speed had finally become too much for Joe to overcome, this was the round. When Frazier no longer has the advantage in power, you know he's in trouble, which was the reality of the 14th round. Joe was bleeding from his lips with his face lumped up and swollen, but tried to continue to press Ali. But only ended up walking into Ali's extended lefts and rights that he couldn't see. Right before the bell Ali smashed him with a straight right hand with his back to the ropes that really shook him. When the bell rang to end the 14th round, Frazier walked slowly back to his corner.
Just as Dundee had saved Ellis from taking a senseless beating from Frazier five years earlier, Futch saved Frazier from taking a senseless beating from Ali and stopped the fight. Thirty years later, the words uttered by Eddie Futch to Frazier as much as the fight have easily stood the test of time, "It's all over. No one will ever forget what you did today." No Mr. Futch, none of us have forgotten nor will we ever as long as there's blood pumping in veins. Neither will we ever forget how both Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali contributed to the sport of boxing and how they elevated it.
The only controversy about the fight is a non-controversy. In regard to whether or not Ali would've come out for the 15th round is laughable, exposing some as to how little they know about either fighter. When Frazier went back to his corner after round 14, he had nothing left but his great heart. There's no way in the world Frazier doesn't come out for round 15 if he's permitted by Futch. As far as Ali, how far does a person need to go to believe he sits on his stool if Frazier comes out. If there is one thing about Ali that can never be questioned, it's his heart and guts. After just having two of the best rounds he ever had in three fights against Joe, having him on the verge of being out, it's literally stupid to think he is too hurt or spent to finish the fight.
In case Frazier somehow changed Futch's mind, here's the result. Put in the tape of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, the final meeting between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta. Here's what you do, add 55 pounds to Jake, 65 to Ray and tell yourself it's really the 15th round and not the 13th. This how it ends. Joe is definitely stopped, probably with his back to the ropes like LaMotta, but Ali doesn't put him down.