On the 40th anniversary of the "Thrilla In Manila," the third and final bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in their epic trilogy, SI takes a look back at the historic fight, which took place on October 1, 1975.
October 01, 2012
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The Thrilla in Manila
The historic rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier took place in Quezon City on October 1, 1975. President Ferdinand Marcos had campaigned for the fight with the hopes of diverting attention from the ongoing social turmoil in the Philippines. After briefly considering Cairo's Nasser Stadium as a venue, promoter Don King agreed to hold the fight at the 16,500-seat Araneta Coliseum. This cover shot for the September 15 issue of SI was taken on August 25.
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Ali's pre-fight bluster
Ali taunted Frazier mercilessly throughout the build-up to the fight. At a July 17 press conference, the champ paraded around with a butterfly net (which Frazier allegedly would need to catch him) and a toy gorilla. "It's gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the Gorilla in Manila," Ali riffed.
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The early rounds
The fight began at 10:45 a.m. local time to accommodate international TV audiences. Ali outboxed and outscored the challenger early and staked a lead on all three judges' cards, but Frazier took control in the middle rounds as the suffocating humidity took hold of the champ.
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Ali had hoped to make it a short fight and grew frustrated when it became obvious Frazier wasn't going to comply. "You dumb chump, you!" chirped Ali midway through the fourth.
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Frazier heats up
The tide slowly turned once Frazier, a notorious slow starter, began to land punches with more accuracy and frequency. Wrote Mark Kram for SI : "[Frazier's] old calling card — that sudden evil, his left hook — was working the head of Ali. Two hooks ripped with slaughterhouse finality at Ali's jaw, causing Imelda Marcos to look down at her feet, and the president to wince as if a knife had been stuck in his back. Ali's legs seemed to search for the floor. He was in serious trouble, and he knew that he was in no-man's-land."
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Ali looks for answers
As Frazier took control of the fight, Ali reached deep into his bag of tricks. At one point, he even tried the rope-a-dope gambit that worked so effectively against George Foreman. But Frazier countered by pounding Ali's arms so deflecting his blows hurt nearly as much as absorbing them. By the end of the 10th, the pace of the fight slowed as both men fought serious fatigue. "Both guys ran out of gas," Ali trainer Angelo Dundee later remarked, "only my guy had an extra tank."
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Ali turns the momentum
As Frazier's left eye swelled, he could no longer see Ali's right hand — and the champ took full advantage. He staggered Frazier in the 12th and 13th rounds, at one point knocking the Philly slugger's mouthpiece into the crowd.
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Closing the deal
With Frazier's left eye swollen shut, trainer Eddie Futch stopped the fight between the 14th and 15th rounds — against his fighter's adament objections. "I want him boss," pleaded Frazier, to which Futch responded, "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today." When the word spread across the ring, an exhausted Ali collapsed to the canvas.
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Remarked Ali of the fight, "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of." Neither fighter was ever the same again.
10 of 10Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated
The epic battle
Futch analyzed the showdown thusly: "Ali fought a smart fight. He conserved his energy, turning it off when he had to. He can afford to do it because of his style. It was mainly a question of anatomy, that is all that separates these two men. Ali is now too big, and when you add those long arms, well ... Joe has to use constant pressure, and that takes its toll on a man's body and soul."
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