Boxing: Two greats, one everlasting memory - More Sports - Sport - The Independent

Boxing: Two greats, one everlasting memory

It remains one of sport's most celebrated chapters. Alan Hubbard revisits boxing's Thrilla in Manila

The master of the Ali shuffle, possessor of heavyweight boxing's fastest feet, had rapturous rhythm in the ring but he couldn't quickstep out of it. Imelda's invitation was politely declined.

A couple of days later, at a time of the morning when Regency gentlemen used to fight their duels, Ali and Frazier went to war. In an atmosphere more resembling a bear pit, before a full house of screaming Filipinos, Manila was about to have its "Thrilla", an encounter which surely ranks as the greatest heavyweight title fight of all time. The date: 30 September 1975.

Thirty years on, that morning glory remains etched indelibly in the mind. The previous year, Ali had rumbled in the jungle, demoralising George Foreman in what was arguably his defining performance and the most bizarre occasion in heavyweight boxing. Norman Mailer wrote an entire book about it, called The Fight, but in essence what happened in Manila was the fight. The fight of a lifetime.

Actually it wasn't in Manila, but at Quezon City, a dusty suburb six miles from the capital, where we witnessed a bout that transcended anything the sport had seen before. Neither man would ever be the same again; for both it was to prove a fight too far. Ali was to describe it later as "the closest thing to dyin'."

The word "epic" is a label all too casually applied, whether it is films or fights, but not in this case. This was boxing's Gone With The Wind. Ali had launched it with a poem: "It will be a killa and a chilla and a thrilla, when I get the gorilla in Manila."

Frazier was incensed, gritting, "I want his heart". A decent, simple man, brought up in cotton-picking country, Frazier was never able to comprehend that Ali's "insults" were designed just to psych him out and sell more tickets, as they had been on the two previous occasions the pair had met, Frazier memorably winning "The Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden in 1971 and Ali their return three years later.

To this day Frazier, now 61, has little pity for the 63-year-old Ali's condition, though he himself walks with a limp as a result of a car accident and his own speech is slurred.

Both had reigned in an age when world boxing crowns were not bits of bling. Ali fought, and beat, everyone of note as well as many others of little consequence. No challenge was shirked, though some proved more difficult than others, notably those against two men he met three times. One was Ken Norton; in the first encounter Ali's jaw was broken, and all ended in controversial points decisions. The other was Frazier.

Ali's people thought before the last act in their trilogy that Smokin' Joe was a dying ember. They should have known he would be fired up to face the one man who was in his head, and in his blood.

On the assumption that this would be a fairly easy encounter, Ali spent much of the time before the bout canoodling with his new girlfriend, Veronica Porsche, a stunning model whom he was later to marry. However, at the time he was still married to his second wife, Belinda, who followed him to Manila and gave him almost as hard a time out of the ring as he was later to have inside it with Frazier. Belinda, a black belt in karate, wrecked the hotel room where he and Veronica were staying, and facial scratch marks were testimony to the fury vented on her husband.

In the fight itself, Ali was in control in the early rounds, but Frazier refused to wilt, pounding hooks into the champion's body and forcing him on to the ropes. Ali was unmoved though impressed. In a clinch, he muttered to Frazier: "Joe, they told me you was washed up." Frazier fired back: "They lied!"

The exchanges then proceeded with such brutal intensity that one almost had to shield eyes already damp with the sweat running into them because of lack of air conditioning in the sauna-like arena.

Ali was to say later: "Man, I hit him with punches that'd bring down the walls of the city. Lordy, he's great! Joe Frazier is one hell of a man. If God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me."

The tributes were not returned by Frazier. But the punches were, both men belabouring each other with relentless savagery. By the end of the 14th round, Ali was exhausted and Frazier's features so grotesquely swollen he could hardly see. It was then that Frazier's great trainer, Eddie Futch, acted with foresight and compassion, refusing to let his man come out for the final three minutes.

In the opposite corner, Ali was visibly relieved, momentarily slumping to the canvas. He had told his own cornerman, Angelo Dundee, to cut off his gloves. Dundee ignored him, sponging his face down for the last hurrah that wasn't to be. "Frazier quit just before I did," Ali was to confide some years later. Even if the truth was that Futch made Frazier quit.

Later, in a darkened dressing-room, Frazier's then 14-year-old son Marvis sat sobbing alongside his father as Ali entered to offer his commiserations to the grotesquely bruised and bleeding Smokin' Joe. "What you cryin' for, boy?" Ali demanded of young Frazier. "I'm crying 'cos my daddy got beat," came the reply.

Ali looked at him: "You stop that, you hear. Your daddy lost nuthin'. He's a winner. Just you remember that for the rest of your life." It was one of the many things about that day that all of us there will remember for the rest of our lives, too.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week