“When the Thrilla in Manila was over, one man was left with a ruin of life, the other was battered to his soul.”
That was how Mark Kram, in his book Ghosts of Manila, aptly described the end of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy dubbed as the “Super Fights I, II and III.
Eight years later after the Thrilla, a grim sight in a small hospital on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina demonstrated what Ali’s two-decade of fighting atop the ring brought to his body. Six years later, in 1989, there was no turning away from the truth – “The Greatest” was suffering from a decease called “Parkinson”.
Ali laid on his hospital bed with droplets of sweat above his lip and on his forehead, his hands and head trembling. Looking him on his room, one was reminded of his face during the latter rounds inside the Philippine Coliseum.
The three fights with Frazier had done great damage to Ali and Manila should have signaled the last in his long, long journey in a game where longevity kills. Every organ, every centimeter of bone in his body was asking for mercy.
But there is an unwritten in boxing that there is no such thing as a fighter who leaves the sport “on time.” No one walks away. He just limps. Ali was determined to break that rule. The temptation of money, more money, power adulation and celebration.
He pressed on, fought four times in 1976 alone against mostly unheard of opponents. He was in the ring twice more in 1977 and was severely punished by Ernie Shavers. The following year, he lost and regained the world heavyweight championship, the only man to win the title three times against small Leon Spinks.
Ali retired in 1979 as his condition worsened. He had boxed roughly 15,000 rounds in actual fights and in training. He had married Veronica Porsche, his third, and believed to have been spending $30 to $35,000 a month.
One year later when everything looked to have been settled down, he decided to comeback once more, this time vs Trevor Berbick. He climbed the ring fat in the middle, his hand speed nowhere to be found.
After Manila, Frazier fought just twice more an effectively retired after that and stayed in good shape. He continued involving himself in boxing he loved most in hometown Philadelphia, developing young fighters, including son Marvis.
He remained revered in sports circle, with his stature assured by his classic, albeit brutal three-fight encounters with Ali.
The Thrilla was voted “Fight of the Year” and Ali “Fighter of the Year.” Eddie Futch, meanwhile was adjudged “Trainer of the Year” and Filipino referee Carlos “Sonny” Padilla Jr. “Referee of the Year.”