The “Thrilla in Manilla”. Just the name itself sends chills down the spines of boxing fans. On October 1, 1975, the culmination of what would go on to be the greatest trilogy in boxing history was set to take place.
Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City of the Philippines hosted the epic conclusion between Muhammad Ali (48-2, 34 KOs) and Joe Frazier (32-2, 27 KOs).
It wouldn’t disappoint.
The bout would later be named The Ring’s “Fight of the Year” in 1975. Nearly 21 years later, in 1996, The Ring went on to name it “The Number 1 Fight of All-Time.”
Ali was Ali. “It’s gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the Gorilla in Manila!”
Scheduled for 15 rounds, the fight would be held just after 10:00 a.m. local time to accommodate those watching back home in the United States. Nearly 400 closed-circuit locations were set up to view the bout in the US and nearly 70 countries across the world would see the live broadcast.
The two fighters held a storied history. Their first bout, “The Fight of the Century,” took place in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. Frazier, the champion, floored Ali in the 15th Round and won a unanimous decision.
Their second bout, also held at Madison Square Garden, was in January of 1974. Ali won a unanimous decision. Days before the fight, the two met with Howard Cosell at the ABC studio in New York City to review the first fight and discuss the rematch.
A war of words ensued that ended with the two locking horns and wrestling to the ground before being separated.
With each man having beaten the other, the third bout, the rubber match, made all the sense in the world. This time around Ali was the champion defending the crown he had won from George Foreman just one year before.
Although the fight was set to begin early in the morning, it was already warm, muggy and sticky outside the arena. Inside, packed with some 30,000 fans and with the ring lights shining down, some estimated the temperature in the ring at 120 degrees.
The legendary Don Dunphy sat with another legend, Ken Norton, to call the bout.
Both fighters entered the ring, Ali wearing white trunks, Frazier in blue. Referee Carlos Padilla oversaw the corners putting the gloves on the fighters in their corners just moments before the opening bell.
While Padilla gave final instructions at mid ring, the two picked up where they left off with Cosell in New York. The jawing and trash talk continued.
Round 1 was underway with, Frazier, 31, smiling as he attacked Ali’s body with a furious assault. The game plan constructed by Eddie Futch and George Benton was obvious from the get-go.
The 5’11” Frazier stepped inside the taller Ali, at 6’3”, to hammer the champion’s mid-section.
Ali, 33, was not floating like a butterfly. Flat footed in front of Frazier, he was popping “Smokin” Joe with left jabs and right crosses. The bee still had sting.
By Round 3, Ali had opened up the rope-a-dope that he had unveiled in Zaire against Foreman. With the champion pinned against the ropes, Frazier blasted away with vicious right and left hooks to the body.
He occasionally mixed in uppercuts hoping to split Ali’s guard, held high, gloves pinned over his face.
Ali worked his way out of the corner and strafed Frazier with a series of right hands and left hooks. Frazier kept coming.
The action was back and forth at a sizzling pace, each man pummeling the other while taking his best shots. Frazier was the clear aggressor while Ali was happy to accommodate him in what was rapidly becoming a toe-to-toe affair.
After Round 4 ended, Ali sat in his corner with trainer Angelo Dundee. The crowd began chanting, “Ali! Ali! Ali!” The champion rose from his stool to lead the chant, pumping his fist.
The bout progressed into the middle rounds with Frazier having found a clear rhythm, bobbing, weaving, coming in low, landing bombs to the body of the champion.
Dunphy’s analysis was spot on, “Frazier’s stood up under Ali’s best shots. And vice-versa.”
The ebb and flow of the action was incredible. Ali would retreat to the ropes and find himself in a corner while Frazier would bomb away. Ali would then find a way out and fire back, scoring just as cleanly as his relentless challenger.
With the bout now entering its final stages, the improbable pace continued. Ali looked exhausted. Frazier, too, began to slow down and was bleeding from the mouth and was swelling around his eyes.
Both men stood at mid ring to being Round 14. Frazier continued to attack while Ali continued to counter. Midway through the round, a blast of firepower was unloaded from each warrior. Ali strafed Frazier with a blistering combination stopping him dead in his tracks.
The crowd roared. Dunphy’s voice rose, “Frazier is hurt! Frazier is badly hurt!” Both fighters were weary, throwing all that they had at each other. The bell sounded to end the 14th Round and both men collapsed onto their stools.
Frazier, his face badly swollen, was still bleeding from the mouth. Dunphy saw the end was near. “The doctor comes up and looks at Frazier. I think it’s gonna be over. It’s all over!”
Futch had decided to stop the fight after 14 brutal rounds. The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, had retained his title by way of a 14th-round technical knockout.
As the crowed let out a resounding roar, Ali pulled himself up from his stool and raised his hands over his head in victory.
After the bout, Frazier would recollect, “Man, I hit him with punches that’d bring down the walls of a city.”
Ali returned the compliment, “He is the greatest fighter of all times, next to me.”
Few bouts and few men, capture the hearts and minds of not just the boxing fan, but the sports fan and non-fan alike.
They are legends–at last reunited, catching up and talking about the old days.