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‘Like death’ – how ‘Thrilla in Manila’ changed Ali, Frazier forever

By Barry Silah
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (right) in action against Joe Frazier in October 1975. Photo/AFP
In summary

Manila, Wednesday

When Muhammad Ali survived 14 brutal rounds with Joe Frazier in the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ 45 years ago, it wrote a page in boxing folklore but left both men forever diminished.

Fought in the Philippines’ stifling daytime heat, with barely functioning air conditioning, Frazier was beaten nearly blind and Ali was on the verge of surrender.

In the end, it was Frazier’s trainer who threw in the towel to hand Ali victory on October 1, 1975, settling their head-to-head 2-1. But the fight came at a cost to both men.

“Ali and Frazier would never be the same again, after pouring and spending practically all their power and durability in Manila,” said Recah Trinidad, a Philippine boxing columnist. “The fighters went to destroy, not merely to outfight each other,” he added.

Ali, who had beaten George Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire a year earlier, came into the fight at 33, his best years well behind him.

They battled inside the 25,000-seat Araneta Coliseum with such ferocity that spectators including Imelda Marcos, wife of then-Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, were spattered with blood.

“It was like death. Closest thing to dyin’ that I know of,” Ali later said of the bout.

Ali set an acrimonious tone in the weeks leading to the fight, enraging Frazier, 31, by likening him to a giant ape.

“It’s gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the gorilla in Manila,” Ali boasted, coining the nickname that still resonates today.

On fight day the momentum swung back and forth between the men, who were in their third and final match-up.

The fight in the tropics was staged in the daytime to suit US television audiences, but the crowd and TV lights overwhelmed the air-conditioning.

“At 125 degrees we were fighting each other (as well as) against the heat,” Frazier said in the 2008 documentary “Thrilla in Manila”.

Ali’s blows had swollen Frazier’s right eye nearly shut, and he was nearly blind in his left due to a training injury.

His face soaked in blood, Frazier argued with his trainer Eddie Futch to let him come out for the 15th round, but Futch stopped the fight.        -AFP