The title-defending Muhammad Ali and his challenger ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier arrived separately on elegant black Mercedes that crossed the almost empty Metro Manila streets (like in this days every time our own Manny Pacquiao fights) from their respective hotels.
Like in the various social functions and press conferences the duo jointly attended, Ali arrived first followed by Frazier as both, from the time they fought first, made it known not to be seen together at any given time
Except when they called on President Marcos and First Lady Imelda at Malacanan Palace where they were forced to arrive together albeit on separate cars and stay together in one room for a couple of hours.
Outside of the Araneta Coliseum (re-named Philippine Coliseum for that particular historic event) everything was quiet – President Marcos declared the day a special holiday to allow every Filipino o watch what later turned out the “Fight of the Century.”
The Thrilla in Manila was won that morning of October 1, 1975!
The air-conditioned coliseum was hot owing to the capacity 28,000 people, including the First Couple, which occupied every space available they can sneak their way in. As the fight progressed, the atmosphere was oven-hot as crowd grew to standing room only 32,000.
The 15-round collision turned to be a three-stage contest with Ali, as he was known to, started like a house on fire in the first five rounds and Frazier bulldozing his way in the next five. The last four sessions were the deciding rounds as the duo battled their way in fierce exchanges as there was no tomorrow, which it really was.
When the smoke of battle was gone in the 14th, Frazier’s manager-trainer decided he and the millions inside and outside the arena had seen enough and called it a day to the strong objection of ‘Smokin’ Joe, of course. His pupil, to Eddie’s mind and everybody else’s, has sustained terrible beating. Joe had the warrior’s heart, a big fighting will that was telling him to go on.
At that moment, Futch remained he saner voice to tell Joe that he must not. “Joe, I’m going to stop this,” he was heard of saying while Joe stood on his stool to resume fighting.
“No, Eddie, no. Don’t do this to me, “ Joe shouted back in a barely comprehensible words. Joe kept pleading heard by newsmen sitting in the press row below his corner. But at that moment and as always in his long years spent as father to his wards, Futch knew best.
In soft, authoritative voice, he said, “Sit down, son, it’s all over. The world will never forget what you did here today.”
In he opposite corner, Ali bloodied, too, and gasping for breath, rejoiced upon hearing Frazier’s corner had thrown in the towel then collapsed on his stool as if hit by a sniper’s shot.
He later said in his dressing room that had Frazier answered the bell signalling the start of the 15th, it could have been him to quit on his stool. “T’was like death. Closin’ thing to dyin’ that I know. ”
With the only strength left in them, the two fighters struggled on their way to their respective dressing room. Ali was draped around the shoulders of two of his handlers as they entered the room.
Joe wept inside his room consoled by Futch. Bob Goodman, promoter Don King’s press liaison, asked if Joe can meet media men in the traditional post-fight press conference. Joe agreed and readily went to the press con.
When Goodman went to Ali’s room and asked if he can, Drew Brown yelled at him, “You insane? Look at him!” Ali was slump on a sofa, his skin I gray color. “Joe’s already there, Goodman said. Only upon hearing this that Ali stood up to join the meeting with the media.