“Smokin” Joe Frazier must have, indeed, forgiven archrival Muhammad Ali for the latter’s continued verbal assault on his person, but he certainly, hadn’t forgotten.
Thirty-six years after the final chapter of their historic trilogy and up until his death on November 7, 2011, Joe never showed sign of not forgetting the insults and humiliations Ali thrown his way in the course of their historic but bitter and brutal rivalry.
“Smokin” Joe and the “Greatest” fought each other for third and final time in Manila on October 1, 1975 in a showdown called “Thrilla In Manila” and “Superfight III, and since then the former slaughter house hand in his hometown Philadelphia never ceased slugging it out off the ring.
The animosity between the two, who actually were friends before, actually started five years earlier on March 8, 1971 when the two greatest heavyweights of their era fought at the Madison Square Garden in New York where the title-defending Frazier knocked Ali down for the first time in his career on the way to scoring a 15-round unanimous decision victory.
From then, the “Louiseville Lip” continuously humiliated, enraged, isolated Frazier from the rest of the world, referring him as a shuffling and mumbling “Uncle Tom,” an ugly and ignorant errand boy of white America and calling him a “gorilla.”
But while Ali seemed to have mellowed down and owned all the insults he hurled at Frazier’s direction by asking for forgiveness, it was the latter who had been on the attacking mood the longest until his demise, which all of the boxing world and the entire international sports community will commemorate next month.
Right after he won via a technical knockout when Frazier’s manager-trainer Eddie Futch threw in the towel after the bloody, brutal 14th round, Ali called the challenger’s son Marvis into his dressing room and told him that he did not meant everything he said about his father, which were all, he added, in the interest of hyping up all their three fights, including Chapter II on January 28 1974. When informed by the young Marvis, Frazier told his son,” you ain’t me, son. Why isn’t he apologizing to me.”
One time in Philadelphia, Joe’s adopted home and where he operated a boxing gym, and at a time when both had long retired, Frazier, as reported by Sports Illustrated, was approached by a 10-year-old girl accompanied by her mother, who told the former champ, “she (her daughter) wants to know if you ever beat Ali.”
For a long moment, Frazier sat still, his eyes rolled wildly from side to side and after reassembling his scattered faculties, he looked at the two and said,” We locked up three times, he (Ali) officially won two and I won one. But look at him now, I think I won all three.”
In one other occasion, in New York City, Ali, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome (a set of symptoms that include tremors and mask-like face), was screening a documentary celebrating his life, a production entitled Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story, when a man nearby said to him: I saw Joe Frazier in Philly last week.”
To which, Ali retorted: Joe Fraysha? You seen the gorilla? From Manila?”
During the opening ceremony of the centennial celebration of the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996 where Ali lit the Olympic torch, Frazier told everyone in sight that he should have been doing the honor as an Olympian and gold medalist, too, at that.
He was even heard as saying: “They should have thrown him in (cauldron).”
Indeed, since the saga of the Thrilla In Manila, every time the two appeared separately in public and even when Frazier was gone, the memories of that final encounter remain in everyone’s minds — Manila, the Philippines, the Filipinos and their world-renowned hospitality that endeared the whole nation to all people on earth.
Thrill in Manila. “The fight of the Year”. “The fight of the Century.” “The Greatest Fight of All Time” cemented for Ali the honor the “The Greatest Heavyweight of the Millennium. “
For Frazier, who dealt Greatest the first of his only four losses in a 61-fight, 20-year career, it was the occasion where he earned his in the list as one of boxing’s immortals in the company of hi arch-rival himself, Johnny L. Sullivan and the “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis.
And for the Philippines, it was the time to, once again, showcase to the entire universe its capability to host successfully a sporting event as big and of such magnitude as the Ali-Frazier world heavyweight championship showdown.
It needed a much-maligned President Marcos, the dictator, and his entire government to prove that.