It’s quite simply one of the most epic heavyweight title fights in history. And almost 45 years ago, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in their third fight with arguably the most famous nickname in boxing lore, the “Thrilla in Manila.”
The date was October 1st, 1975 and Ali was off his stunning 8th round KO the previous October of the seemingly invincible George Foreman to recapture the Heavyweight Title.
Meanwhile, Frazier had been humbled and knocked out easily by Foreman in 1973 and now, was attempting to regain the championship at the expense of his arch-rival from earlier in their careers.
Frazier had beaten Ali in their first clash in March of 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York. handing the greatest his first ever loss and taking away is Heavyweight Title.
Ali had avenged his defeat, although in a non-title fight, by beating Frazier in a 12-round decision in their rematch in January of 1974 back at the Garden.
Famed boxing promoter and money man, Don King had been touring the Heavyweight Title fights all over the globe and when Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos ponied up in excess of $4 million U.S. dollars to pay the two fighters, the Philippines landed the fight. King also made a massive amount of money off the international closed circuit television deals all over the world.
The fight was held at the Philippine Coliseum which seated 27,000 people in an indoor facility. Also the fight was held at 10 a.m. local time to accommodate primetime television audience in the United States the night before.
At that time of the day and time of the year, temperatures are typically in excess of 90 degrees in Manila, and inside the arena it was reportedly over 100 degrees, even that early in the morning. You combine the massive amount of people with that outside temperature and then, with television lights that were turned on to see the ring, and the temperature was reportedly above 115 degrees during the fight.
This one was not long on artistry and boxing skill and more about a toe-to-toe war. Ali repeatedly scored with his jab and quick combinations early in the fight and kept Frazier at bay. He was in complete control in the first four rounds.
Frazier’s best round to that point in the fight was the fifth, where he landed a couple of his patented left hooks along the ropes and seemed to stun Ali, momentarily. However it was learned later that Frazier’s right shoulder and elbow were both bad-arthritic and he was basically a one-armed fighter as the fight went on. Ali continued to pile up the points getting the better of the exchanges with Frasier, especially in the middle of the Ring.
So while Frazier was landing a left occasionally as the fight went along, it was Ali who was scoring with fast, hard combinations in the middle rounds. He was leading on the scorecards headed to the late stages of the fight.
Ali scored his best round in the 12th, landing two or three heavy punches that staggered Frazier and it appeared his eyes were beginning to swell shut. Further complication was it legendary trainer Eddie fudge and Frazier’s cornermen had no ice left in the late stages of the fight because of the intense heat having melted there’s. And, they couldn’t stop the puffiness and swelling from continuing under both of Frazier’s eyes.
Ali landed two huge right hands in the 13th round sending a weary Frazier’s mouthpiece flying across the ring. He hammered Joe with several more combinations, as the round wore on, and it was obvious that Frazier was ailing and having trouble fighting back.
That led to the 14th round where again Ali poured it on Frazier, who was tiring and having trouble seeing. Frazier later revealed 20 years later in his autobiography that by the time he fought Ali the third time in 1975 he was mostly blind in one eye. And now, both eyes were almost swollen shut. Ali wobbled Frazier with back to back right-left combinations late in the round.
When the bell sounded to end round 14th, Futch had seen enough. He told Filipino referee, Carlos Padilla, that there would not be a 15th round, as he was stopping the fight to save Frazier.
Ali came off his stool being hugged by his famed trainer Angelo Dundee and then, collapsed to a seated position nearby, exhausted and dehydrated. Ali reportedly lost 6 pounds during a fight due to the heat and the battle.
Both men described the intensity of the fight, the punishment and the heat combining as facing death in the ring.
Ali would fight on six more years finishing 56-5, even losing and then regaining, the Heavyweight title to Leon Spinks in 1978.
Frazier was knocked out the next year by George Foreman again, and fought once more in 1981 before retiring with a 32-4-1 record.
However, he and “The Greatest” (Ali) have their place in boxing history, especially with their brutal third and final fight.