The coming of ‘Thrilla in Manila’

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“You gotta have a butterfly net to catch me … It’s gonna be a chilla, and a thrilla, when I get the Gorilla in Manila.”

These lines, coming from the lips of Muhammad Ali, formally gave birth to the “Thrilla In Manila,” the world heavyweight championship bout between him and challenger Joe Frazier.

It was on July 17, 1975 in New York City where Ali uttered those words in a press conference while announcing the title encounter to be held a little less than three months later on October 1 in Manila.

In the presence of the adoring international media men, the then 33-year-old Ali took a small rubber gorilla out of his pocket and beat it on the end of the string saying those words that actually started the world wide hype for the fight that turned out to be the biggest ever single sporting event ever hosted by the country.


Ali brandishes a butterfly net during a press conference announcing his fight with Frazier. PHOTO FROM EDDIE ALINEA’S FILE

For 74 days since that memorable day the Philippines, particularly Manila had appeared and read in all the sports pages of all newspapers, witnessed and heard on television and radio around the globe. A week before the fight the name of the country, its premier city and people were all over the front pages and primetime news.

Up to this present time, 42 years later, the slogan coined by the ‘Louisville Lip’ himself is still being uttered by everyone even outliving its author and the person being referred to.

Frazier passed away on Novermber 7, 2011, while Ali joined his Creator June 3 last year.

Quite a number of events related to the fight occurred in that span that spiced to the final chapter of the epic trilogy between the two of the finest and brightest fighters in the world of that era like Ali going to Frazier’s hotel toting a gun and threatening to shoot the latter all in the name of selling the fight.

Then there’s the protagonists’ pre-fight visit to Malacanang where Ali introduced his girlfriend Veronica Porsche, who came with his entourage, to President Marcos as his wife that led his real wife Belinda Boyd (Khalila) to rush to the country for one-day sojourn that turned to a scandalous proportion that almost overshadowed the main event.

A one time, the champ’s camp saw Ali atop the catwalk of the training venue at the Folk Arts Theater that triggered a shouting match between. Somebody at the challenger’s camp confessed later Ali had been doing the same several times. He never did it again after being caught.

The count of the fighters’ two previous confrontations was 1-win, 1-loss apiece necessitating a third duel that was perceived a money-making proposition designed also to project h Philippines’ good image abroad.

It was a battle between to unbeaten heavyweight campaigners with Frazier defending his title and Ali, fighting his only second following a three-year suspension following his refusal to be drafted in the military.

The combatants battled toe-to-toe for 14 solid rounds until the title-defender floored Ali with his patented left hook late in the 15th round to earn a unanimous decision win.

The pattern of the first fight continued in the second with the former champ scoring a revenge although Frazier and the majority who saw the showdown believed the latter should have been the one whose hands were raised and, thus, remained as champion.

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