Thrilla in Manila

The Thrilla in Manila: Ali vs. Frazier 3, October 1, 1975

Never has a boxing rivalry splashed with such fervor across the public’s radar than the one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

It was fitting that this rivalry’s fiery finale took place at the exciting Araneta Coliseum in Manila, in the Phillippines, in 1975. Ali and Frazier had been at each other’s throats for over five years. They fought twice before going to Manila, in 1971 and 1974, with each contender winning a match. When boxing promoter Don King was looking for a place to hold their third and final bout, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos invited them to come there.

Who Were These Two Gladiators?

Ali was born in Kentucky in 1942—his parents named him Cassius Clay Jr. He medaled at the Olympics in 1960 and smashed his way into professional boxing with his first World Heavyweight Championship in 1964. Around the same time he converted to Sunni Islamism and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Three years later, amid the turmoil of the late Sixties and the unpopularity of the American draft, he protested against joining the military and going to fight in Vietnam. For taking his stand, he was prosecuted for draft evasion and stripped of his championship title.

Smokin’ Joe Frazier came along just a couple years later, in 1942, from South Carolina, also an Olympic champion, who took a few years longer to cement his reputation in professional boxing. In the late 1960s he protested when Ali was stripped of his title and helped Ali both financially and publicly to reinstate his eligibility as a pro boxer.

Ali-Frazier 1 and 2: Each Takes a Victory

Once Ali regained his boxing license, the fight was on. Anyone who thought that Frazier and Ali shared a bond over the licensure issue was in for a rude awakening. Ali called Frazier an “Uncle Tom,” and Frazier retaliated by refusing to recognize Ali’s Islamic name.  Finally they met in the ring for the first time in Madison Square Gardens in 1971, in what was labeled “The Fight of the Century.” Both fighters went into the ring undefeated with legitimate claims to the heavyweight championship belt. Frazier knocked Ali to the mat in the fifteenth round and took the title.  Ali said it was a “white man’s decision.”

By the time they fought again in 1974, it was denoted a non-title match. Although the two boxers went at each other during an interview moderated by Howard Cosell, they really didn’t bring it to the ring. It was described by sportscasters and fans alike as a mediocre battle between two has-beens. Ali won the day, however, in a split decision.  But the blood between them boiled hot. A third match to break the tie was inevitable.

Preparations for the Rubber Match

While the promoters worked out the details, Ali defeated George Foreman in Zaire’s “Rumble in the Jungle” and took back the World Heavyweight Championship.  Ironically, it had been Foreman in 1973 who took Frazier’s title away. In the meantime, wiry-haired boxing promoter Don King worked out the details for a fight to take place on October 1, 1975. While no true insiders felt that Frazier had much juice left, the world waited eagerly for this rematch. The question was—where to have it?

In the Philippines, meanwhile, Ferdinand Marcos had come to power along the same time lines as Ali and Frazier. He gained the title of Philippine President in 1965, most likely through vote-buying and other fraud. Once established as president, he undertook positive programs to build up the country’s infrastructure and tried to establish remarkable economic reforms.

During the early 1970s, however, Manila and the rest of the Philippines felt as much or more social unrest as any other place in the world. Philippine students organized protests against the unavoidable surge of socialism and American expansionism.  Ultimately, in 1972, Marcos silenced his people by instating martial law, took control of the press, and eliminated habeas corpus, the right of the accused to stand before a judge.  In 1973 he changed the form of government to a parliamentary style that kept him in power.

How could he distract his people’s frenzy from everything that was going on?

The answer came to him in the form of Ali-Frazier: What better way to unite his people than create excitement about possibly the greatest boxing match ever, taking place right there in Manila, the Philippines?

Everyone united around the economic benefits of having the fight in Manila, and people everywhere were excited.

Don King came up with the catch phrase of all times, The Thrilla in Manila. The match was scheduled to take place in the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City in Metro Manila. Even today, the Araneta stands as one of the largest indoor arenas in the world.

The Rivalry Grows Bitter

While the promoters did their thing, the public became aware that the venom between Ali and Frazier surged more bitter than ever. Ali mocked Frazier as the “gorilla” that he would beat in Manila. In the way he used to mock his opponents with gentle, pre-rap rhymes he chanted that it was “gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the Gorilla in Manila.” Frazier, on the other hand, drove Ali crazy, by disrespectfully calling him Clay, which Ali viewed as his slave name.

The Fight Is On

Once the two were in the ring, it seemed that Ali was going to bring it home easily. He used his 80 inch arm reach, versus Frazier’s 73 inches, to keep pushing Frazier back, and he also landed a lot of head jabs. Frazier kept going for the body, however. No matter how much punishment Ali gave him, Frazier kept ducking in and landing body blows, admonished at least twice for low blows.  But Ali won the early rounds.

In the middle rounds, however, Frazier exuded a surge of energy, pummeling Ali with renewed vigor. Ali mixed up his response with flat-footed fighting, dancing, and laying back against the ropes—the rope-a-dope technique that helped him beat Foreman. Each time, though, he had to come back out from the ropes and fight off Frazier’s blows. The ref told him repeatedly to lay off the neck holds he was using to keep Frazier at bay.

In the final rounds, both men clearly were tired, and they fought with a throbbing intensity that was almost tedious in its relentlessness, hanging on to one another and punching fiercely. By the twelfth round Frazier’s mouth was bleeding badly from two minutes of fighting with a lost mouth guard, and Ali’s work on Frazier’s face started to pay off as Frazier’s eyes swelled shut. Frazier fought the fourteenth round barely able to see. As the men went to their corners before the fifteenth and final round, Frazier’s manager called the fight. Ali won.

The Aftermath

Both the Philippines and the greatest-ever fighting duo went through ups and downs over the decades to follow. Marcos tried to demonstrate his great leadership, but he ruled with an iron fist, and in the 1980s he was linked to the assassination of political activist Benigno Aquino. Frazier and Ali retired from boxing, and over the years their love-hate relationship continued.  Frazier died in November 2011 after a two-month battle with cancer, and a Parkinson’s-stricken Ali said, “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration.”

Watch the Fight

The entire fight is uploaded on YouTube. You can view it at, uploaded by Genghis711.

Enjoy and thanks for reading about this historical fight!

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