Since coming out of hibernation brought about by his suspension for refusal to be drafted into the military, Muhammad Ali had, noticeably been a predictable ring workman.
When he was allowed to return to action after three years and knocked Jerry Quarry out in the third round, in the City Auditorium in Atlanta on October 26, 1970, Ali showed he had considerably mellowed down, matured physically and mentally. His words once quippy and humorously arrogant turned expended with much thought.
The new Muhammad Ali became matured, business-like, decisive and took the dullness of fights as he did with Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, Joe Bugner and George Foreman from whom he took back his world heavyweight title, thus, becoming the only second man in the history of the division to win the crown as many times.
He had coined descriptives like “Rope-A-Dope,” “Mirage,” “Russian Rank,” “Gorilla.” On October 1, 1975, Ali put his heavyweight belt on the line against old nemesis Joe Frazier, whom he tried to disarm by calling the challenger “Gorilla,”
In his stunning title win over Foreman on October 30, 1974, Ali showed he world how his “Rope-A-Dope” worked effectively in his favour. He fought in spurts off with rapid-fire combinations, returning to his defensive rope posture and sapping the defending champion’s energy.
Against Wepner in his first title defense on March 4, 1975, Ali combined a little of his rope tactic with something he called “Mirage” that was really nothing special except to fake away his challenger’s pride and toughness. Ali caught him in the final round with the referee calling an end to the contest with less than a minute left in the bout.
Against Lyle four months later, the title pretender from Denver led on points after 10 rounds but Ali ended it in the next with a barrage of hea71vy blows. On July of the same year Ali’s bandwagon flew to Kuala Lumpur to face Englishman Bugner and under the scorching heat of 105 degree inside the Merdeka Stadium, like the others before him, it was the European titleholder who faailed to deliver.
Against Frazier in a 12-round non-title Super Fight II on January 28, 1974, Ali was effective with his combinations as well as his seemingly illegal tying tactics as he evened up he count to one victory apiece and necessitating the Grand Finale Thrilla in Manila.
It was a close fight and although Ali was in control, pundits aske what would have happened had the encounter been for 15 rounds? In their first classic match on March 8, 1971, Ali found himself lying on the canvas the 15th round giving Frazier a majority decision triumph.
There had never been a match up with such natural chemistry. The Super Fight III was designed to be that, a classic. There was genuine dislike for one another, but there also had a tremendous mutual respect to one another.
Only few athletes, if any, could ever duplicate the pride the two had been ale to generate in their previous meetings. These ingredients were expected to have a telling effect on the outcome of the final chapter of the trilogy. It was more than a fight to both. It was, too, more than a fight to boxing and the world.