The Thrilla In Manila: Still The Greatest!

10/01/2021 - By James Slater - Comments

October 1st, 1975 – Manila.

You know the rest.

It was 46 years ago today when titans, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier settled their brutal, thrilling, never-to-be-forgotten rivalry. It was Ali Vs. Frazier III: The Thrilla in Manila. All these years later, and NO heavyweight fight has ever topped the all-out war/slugfest/fight of a lifetime that took place inside that sweltering arena.

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“Sit down, son, it’s all over. But no-one will ever forget what you did here today,” so said legendary trainer Eddie Futch as he made the decision to pull his warrior out of the fight (Futch’s legendary status helped a good deal by his brave actions at the conclusion of that savage 14th round). And, no, no-one who saw the epic battle between the two greatest big men of their time has ever forgotten.

Sadly, the number of people who were there that day, either working the fight or sat at ringside, has diminished quite a lot these past few years. Ali and Frazier have of course both passed away, as has Angelo Dundee, and Futch, and George Benton, and Ferdie Pacheco, and Don Dunphy, who called the fight, and writer Mark Kram, who perhaps wrote the finest book ever on this fight – “Ghosts of Manila” being a sensational and powerful read.

But Jerry Izenberg, who covered the golden era and writes about it in his book “Once There Were Giants,” is still very much with us. Izenberg, now a sprightly 91, has no doubt at all: The Thrilla in Manila is the single greatest heavyweight fight of all-time. Jerry was there, engrossed in the super, super-fight; while also being at times both shocked and disturbed by the sheer violence that was playing out before him. It was, for some people, too tough, too hard, too damaging a fight to watch, let alone enjoy.

Yet Izenberg explains how special the fight was and how special it remains. Jerry was kind enough to speak with this writer about Ali-Frazier III and how much the fight means to him personally.

“I will tell you the truth – that is the greatest heavyweight fight ever held on any continent, in any place, anywhere,” Izenberg says of Ali-Frazier III. “Joe Frazier and Ali, not [fight] one, but three; the best ever. Jerry Lister and I, we’re sitting side by side at the fight, and during the tenth round, I turned and I said, ‘Jerry, they’ve got to stop this fight.’ He asked me, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘They ought to stop it and tell them they both won and send them home! Because there can be no loser in this fight.’ And there was no loser. You know who decided that fight – God.

“I don’t pay much attention to the judges’ cards, I don’t. One reason is, sometimes they don’t see the body blows. Going into the last round of Ali-Frazier III, I had Ali ahead by a point. That means, if Frazier wins a round, it’s a draw. If Frazier knocks him down, Frazier wins the fight [by decision]. But there was no fifteenth round. I had it that close, absolutely. It was like looking at a financial graph: up and down, up and down. Ali’s up, Frazier’s down, Frazier’s up, Ali’s down….. It went that way from the third round on. In the beginning, he [Frazier] could have been knocked down. I’ll tell you something your readers maybe don’t know.

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“Ali said to me he never talked in the ring. I said to him, ‘You don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about!’ And I was right, I heard him. So now, in the middle of this fight – they had brought in George Benton, the great middleweight, to help train Frazier, and I had said to Joe that if his right shoelace came loose, he would trip and fall because he couldn’t even tie his laces with his right hand – Benton was brought in to teach him how to throw a right hand. And Eddie Futch said, ‘I don’t care if it’s a pitty-pat right hand, I don’t care if it’s missing. I want Ali, who thinks about everything, to know there’s a right hand in the game now.’

“So Frazier was getting closer, and all of a sudden in the sixth round, Frazier hits Ali with a right hand. Ali shouted, ‘You can’t do that, you ain’t got no right hand!’ And then, bang, he hits him again with another right. Joe said, ‘Go ask Georgie Benton.’ They were stood yelling at each other in the ring. It was a life and death fight, it really was. The whole mystery, the whole key to the mystery of Frazier and Ali and why they fought such great fights, is this – they always fought for the territorial imperative. They always fought for the geography of the ring. Frazier wanted the ring to be nine-feet, Ali wanted the ring to be nine miles. And if Frazier could take command and bull him towards the ropes, he could win. If Ali could move and make Frazier dizzy and use the entire ring , he could win. And nobody ever really won it clearly. It went up and down, up and down.

“Who knows if they didn’t cut the gloves off [after the end of round-14 in Manila]. I know Joe couldn’t see much, but one left hook, and who knows? So I don’t think their rivalry has ever been settled. Today, they’re even as far as I’m concerned.”

And there will never be a heavyweight rivalry to rival Ali Vs. Frazier. Neither will there likely be a greater heavyweight fight than The Thrilla in Manila.

12 thoughts on “The Thrilla In Manila: Still The Greatest!”

    • Because Muhammad owned slaves ..and Arab s killed millions of blacks in Africa,cassis clay on the other hand was a abolishinest,learn some history .

  1. There’s people today who still refuse to call Ali by his name… His name wasn’t clay/Ali …. Hate and or ignorance by a individual is like a terminal illness… You usually die with it and probably from it

    • Ali for a long time was a racist himself. If you want the proof look up his Playboy magazine interview. He stated a black man or woman should be killed if they dated a white. I am sure over time he probably changed after retirement. The trash talk he used with Frazier was racist even mocking him by Ali pushing his nose flat if i called a black man a ignorant gorilla would i be a racist. ALI was the greatest fighter of all time but as a person he had a lot of issues people block out because of their awe of him

  2. Thank you for writing this!
    I never appreciated history but I do now!
    God Bless

  3. I’ve watched this fight literally hundreds of times.
    This was an intense pitched battle, an intense drama in Three Acts.
    Ali dominated Joe in the first 5 rounds all business, perhaps testing Joe to see what Joe had left, seeming to make an effort to get Joe out of there early.
    Joe came back in rounds
    6-10 to arguably even up the fight with his patented relentless pressure and a ferocious body attack plus two or three extremely hard left hooks in the middle rounds, hitting Ali as hard as he ever–did but Ali’s chin heart+will to win are unmatched, plus Ali wasn’t exhausted as he was in
    Fight I when Joe landed hooks in the late rounds.

    At the end of the 10th round Ali said he thought momentarily about quitting but later clarified to Howard Cosell, “You think about it for a[[fleeting]]second, but I would NEVER quit. In a fight like that after the 10th round that it was like the closest thing to death I know but even if the thought crosses your mind for a split second never would I

    In the 11th round Ali called on that special inexhaustible reserve of energy he had for the Championship Round+almost imperceptibly started to take control of the fight.
    Angelo Dundee noticed in the 11th that Ali was able to push Joe back into center ring from off the ropes +corners. Also Angelo said the gloves were waterlogged by the humidity, perspiration, and the water the corners were pouring over the fighters heads necks +shoulders to cool them down from the 100°+ with humidity ringside conditions. Angelo said the horsehair padding in the gloves thinned got matted, and except the handwraps and leather Ali was hitting Joe almost with bare knuckles.
    Ali turned up the heat in round 12 Joe Frazier was eyes were swelling shut and closed. Joe was spitting blood in the corner between rounds. In 13th Muhammad Ali took total control of the fight and gave Joe Frazier frightful beating knocking out Joe Frazier’s mouthpiece into the third row ringside seats. Ali landed some of the hardest punches he had ever landed on Frazier in the 13th round and it was more of the same in round 14 Joe Frazier giving ground taking hard shot after hard shot. The last four rounds of the Thrilla in Manila Joe Frazier absorbed the frightful amount of punishment especially in the 13th and 14th. For all intents and purposes Frazier was fighting blind against the greatest fighter of all time. Eddie futch saw the writing on the wall he saw how Muhammad Ali took over the fight in the 11th kept turning up the Heat and the round 12 and he saw Joe Frazier close up taking hard shots from a lie will not being able to see Muhammad Ali the land any punches of his own that were of any consequence. Eddie futch knew that Joe Frazier was only in for more of the same in the 15th round and would have been sending his fighter out there with no chance of winning he wasn’t going to knock Muhammad Ali out and he was likely going to get knocked out himself and possibly suffer bad and permanent damage. It was the proper decision for Eddie futch to call Carlos Padilla Jr over in the corner and indeed later on Carlos Padilla Jr that even without Eddie futch he was thinking about stopping the fight himself. Besides the fight being so brutal the conditions at ringside with it being well over 100 degrees with extremely high humidity made this brutal war that much more brutal that much more a war of attrition. One of Ali’s greatest triumphs indeed the greatest best most brutal fight ever All Things Considered.

  4. Ali fainted at the end of the 14th round. Dundee admitted it when pressed in interviews. In the fight film you see Ali raise his arms and the camera cuts away. Neither of them were ever the same after that fight and they’ll be remembered for years to come and rightfully so. I think Frazier is seriously underrated as time goes on. I would also say Ali’s 3 wars with Norton were just as difficult, but clearly not as brutal and punishing.

  5. Ali was well ahead at the end of the 14 th round, Frazier needed a knockout to win and their was little chance of that at that point

    • INCORRECT. Clay/Ali was NOT well ahead when Futch told Padilla that the fight was to be stopped. Some of you watch fights not knowing how to truly score a fight. Frazier started to dominate the fight before Round Five. Clay/Ali took the first two or three rounds and the last two. I have Frazier ahead at the end of the 14th. Why? Body blows count as much as facial shots. Aggressiveness by a fighter is/should be taken into consideration when scoring. Whom is pressing the fight? A solid shot thrown with intensity is more valuable than a pitter pat punch. Is a fighter holding or rabbit punching, which is illegal and points should be deducted! Clay/Ali complained when other fighters held and hit, but he also, especially against Frazier, held and hit. No points deducted.

      Oh, I watched this fight back in 1975. I own VHS and DVD copies of the Frazier/Clay-Ali Trilogy. Frazier dominates Fight One. Clay/Ali “holds” the edge in Fight Two. Fight Three is basically “even”.
      I would love to sit down with people like you to see how you view and score a fight. I’ll probably laugh my ass off! 😆

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