Remembering the ‘Thrilla’

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Conrad M. Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

On October 1, 1975, the “Thrilla in Manila” was staged that saw Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight for a third time to settle as to who is the best heavyweight of their era.

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It was one of the most dramatic bouts in boxing history and the fight ended when Frazier was held back by his trainer Eddie Futch just as the 15th and final round was to start. But it was not an easy victory for Ali who said after the ninth round “Man, this is the closest I’ve ever been to dying.”

On how Ali and Frazier managed to fight 14 furious rounds with none of them hitting the deck while taking so much punishment still puzzles me to this day.

Ali and Frazier were both known for their legendary ability to take punishment, but it was Ali who displayed almost inhuman ability in that aspect. Frazier, on the other hand, had a fighting style that saw him take one or two punches so he can land one or more of his own. And entering the ring against Ali for the third time, it was only the monster called George Foreman who was able to deck and stop Frazier.

Although Ali was known for his fighting style where he danced and stuck his wicked jab to set up his deadly right, he chose to stand in front of Frazier all night during the Thrilla to trade punches. It was short of being suicidal because that played almost perfectly into the game of Frazier.

And so Ali and Frazier beat each other as if there was no tomorrow during the Thrilla, and Ali was surely hoping and praying Frazier would snap. For sure, Frazier was also having the same thoughts.

In reality, Ali or Frazier did not snap. It just so happened that compassion prevailed over one of the trainers that night. He would tell his battered fighter that nobody would forget what he did that night: “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today.”

For Frazier’s trainer Futch, that would be a decision he would never regret because that allowed his fighter to retire with his faculties intact. Both of Frazier’s eyes were almost shut entering the 15th round.

Ali would celebrate the surrender of the corner of his protagonist and go on to cement his place in the sport as among the greatest boxers of all time.

But like all great fights that could have gone either way, some boxing pundits still wonder on “what could have been” if Frazier was not held back by Futch.

There was a belief among those who closely watched the fight that Ali was also on the verge of quitting the Thrilla nearing the final rounds, which meant he may have been equally exhausted and battered entering the final round.

There is also the popular view that the beating Ali sustained from the Thrilla was one of the reasons he would be afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. So what would another 20 or 30 punches from Frazier do to Ali if the Thrilla had a 15th round?

Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s former trainer and doctor, would go on to say that the Thrilla was the worst beating Ali sustained toward the final years of his career.

In his next 10 fights, Ali would score only two knockouts over weak opposition while Frazier retired after two more fights.

Forty years after the Thrilla, Ali and Frazier are still admired for giving it their all that resulted in one of the greatest and most dramatic fights of all time.

What fueled their drive to almost push themselves to death or disability that night in Manila? Certainly, courage and insanity were one of the things that fueled their drive that night, and fortune may have been the last thing in their minds.

How I wished all the top fighters of today emulated Ali and Frazier.

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