Several days after setting foot in Manila, President Marcos and his First Lady, Imelda, invited Muhammad Ali and Jose Frazier to a dinner in Malacañang with the Chief Executive himself acting as “referee” in a battle of words between the duo, which turned out to be a prelude to what will happen when they eventually squared off atop the ring on October 1 at the Philippine Coliseum.
The President was still presiding over a meeting with a group from Mindanao at the study room when the “Smokin” Joe, with his entourage in tow, arrived past 10 in the morning.
Ali came in 10 minutes later and both, nattily dressed in Barong Pilipino gifted them by fight co-promoter and Games and Amusement Board chair Luis Tabuena sat on opposite sides of the reception hall. He was with girlfriend Veronica Porsche and his entourage.
Inside the study room with the President, Ali introduced Veronica to Marcos as his wife. ”You have a beautiful wife,” the host said admiringly. In his usual loquacious way, readily grabbed the opportunity to resume his seemingly endless tirades against Frazier, saying:
“I don’t know Frazier was comin’. It surprised me. I can’t stand trouble here. You see, Mr. President, everywhere we meet, in the ring, there’s violence. This is the first time we ever met on peaceful terms and that is because you’re in the middle. It takes a President of a nation to stop …. “
Jokingly, the President advice both to “keep your distance from each other and reserve your trouble inside the ring.”
Ali told the President he learned Marcos used to box in his college days, drawing response from the Chief Executive,” I used to practice the sport as an amateur when I still weighed 112 pounds. But that was how many years ago? “
Ali also introduced his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. to the President, who he said, “is very great President.”
Frazier, for his part greeted everybody in the champ’s group, including Veronica. Thereupon, Ali stood up and pretended to go after the smiling challenger.
When the First Lady, wearing a gorgeous pink-channel length dress and a multi-colored scarf, entered the room. The President introduced the visitors amid warning from Ali to guard his wife with Frazier around.
Upon seeing Imelda, Ali told the President: “I respect you now more so than I did at first. Looking at your wife, I can say that you are not a dumb man. You know how to pick ‘em.”
“I can say that you are not far behind. Although I am told that actually, it’s the ladies who make the choice, not the men,” the President retorted, glancing at Veronica.
“That’s right,” Ali remarked. “We’re kinda nice-looking ourselves. Then the champion, ever the chauvinist, added, while looking at Frazier: “But a woman is what her husband makes her. A man is what he makes himself.”
“Well, you’ve got two more weeks to be the champion’s wife,” Frazier said, addressing Veronica.
The Presidential visit ended with Ali saying he considered the occasion a “great honor to meet a well-loved man.”
“We’re all athletes and I hope you’ll be watching the fight. I want you be early so you won’t miss it, “ Ali said drawing concurrence from Frazier.
The challenger gave the President a copy of his press kit, an autographed colored photo of himself and a “Smokin” Joe t-shirt.
“I’m not sure this will fit me,” the President said. “But I have a son (Bongbong) who’s about 18. He’s in Oxford and he’s also learning how to fly ….”
Ali, once more, grabbed the opportunity at repartee and asked “you gonna’ let your son wear that?”
Ali said it was an honor to be in Manila — both for him and Joe — “two black boys who have reached the height among great men.”
“I can tell you it is both an honor and a pleasure for me to referee to two champions,” Marcos told the duo. I gather that you’ve been training quite well. Do you find the facilities to your liking?”
“Very good, no problem at all,” Frazier answered.”
“We also saw that the people are loving. The people are peaceful and kind and he’s (Frazier) got many friends, just as many as I have, “Ali, for his part said.