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Wednesday, 07 November 2012 22:44

Joe Frazier and the Thrilla in Manila: No Resolution

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On this day (Nov. 7) last year, the boxing world was shocked and saddened to hear that legendary heavyweight Joe Frazier had lost his battle to lung cancer at the age of 68.

We remember his accomplishments, achievements, and most of all, we remember a great man.

But we also remember his great rivalry with Muhammad Ali.

One of the wonderful things about sports is rivalries. They give that added excitement for athletes and fans.

Whether its team rivalries such as Duke-North Carolina, Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers Celtics or individual rivalries such as Magic-Bird, Russel-Wilt, or Federer-Nadal.  Rivalries deliver great intensity and generate a certain kind of magic.


But today, we are reminded of possibly biggest rivalry that topples them all - Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier. It was more then just a battle though. It was a war for religion, race, and superiority. This rivalry took on a level of hatred and intensity that had never been matched.

How did this rivalry reach such epic proportions?

One of these men was at the darkest period of his life. Banned from being allowed to earn money in the ring for his decision to forego the Vietnam draft, he had no way of earning an income and was unable to participate in the sport he loved. This man, of course, was Muhammad Ali.

The other man was at possibly his greatest period in his career having just won the heavyweight title vacated by Ali. And being the noble man he was, he campaigned for Ali's freedom, launched petitions on Ali's behalf and even gave Ali money during the former champion's exile from boxing. This man was none other than the late, great Joe Frazier.


When Ali was finally granted freedom to return to the ring, their friendship was over as the two fighters had become bitter enemies. While Frazier showed great sincerity helping Ali through his troubles, Ali chose a different path of commemoration. Every chance he got, he belittled Joe. In a nation still haunted with devilish acts of supremacy and racism, Ali seemingly used his words to turn Fraizer's own race against him.

Frazier had no answer for the attacks as he was shocked and saddened by them. But it did not matter. What mattered was going to take place in the ring on March 8, 1971. The war of words were over and the two were finally going to meet in the ring in a bout that could only be labeled as "The Fight of the Century."

Frazier entered the ring as the champion, compiling a record of 26-0 while Ali entered the ring with a record of 31-0.

As the saying goes, "somebody's O has to go!"And for 15 rounds, Joe Frazier out-dueled the great Ali earning the unanimous decision, successfully defending the heavyweight title and handing the brash heavyweight his first defeat in one of the biggest, most celebrated fights ever.

The two would rematch in 1974 with Ali taking the decision. But compared the legendary encounters No. 1 and 3, the second bout between Ali and Frazier was fairly non eventful. Perhaps it was because no title at stake? By this time, Frazier had lost his title to George Foreman.



However, Foreman would lose his title to Muhammad Ali in October 1974, thus setting up the Ali vs Frazier III for the heavyweight championship of the world and a lot more.


Thrilla in Manila:
The third and final bout between these two was a true testament of this epic rivalry. This bout had so many characteristics which exemplified the intensity of this rivalry. And the battle itself was a brutal affair that is easily one of the great fights of all-time.

President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines had reached out to promoter Don King and requested that Ali vs Frazier III take place in Manila. For the leader who had come under tremendous scrutiny, it made sense.


After all, the country was in the midst of social turmoil having declared martial law three years earlier in 1972. So what better way to improve the nation's image and divert attention away from his country's political and social issues than to host Ali vs Frazier III and showcase the Philipines in a favorable way?

With the fight and location announced, Ali continued to add his veritable assault on Joe. Ali famously stated it would be a, "Killa and a Thrilla and a Chilla, when I get the gorilla in Manila." He used the term gorilla repeatedly to insult Frazier. In addition, he crashed Smokin Joe's training and media sessions, and even purportedly brought a fake gun to taunt Joe outside of the latter's hotel room. Call it playfulness or promoting, but it really hurt Joe.


So the fight would take place at Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines on October 1, 1975.

And once again, the ring was where the battle was going to be fought. It wouldn't be won with words or playful antics. This was Ali vs Frazier III, the rubber match and arguably the most important battle of their trilogy.  It was for bragging rights, their legacies and, most of all, superiority.

The 27 rounds they'd fought in their first two encounters wasn't enough to clear the air. Who was the better fighter?

The world would find out in October 1975 in Manila they were both the greatest!

In 14 rounds of plain brutality, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier. The bout had been very close AND competitive throughout but at the end of the 14th round, Frazier's cornerman Eddie Futch stopped the fight, refusing to let his bloodied, battered fighter continue. And although Frazier insisted he wanted to fight on, he did not get his way.

Ali stated after the fight "Frazier quit right before I did. I didn't think I could fight anymore." Ali said it had been the closest he had ever been to death adding, "Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man."


Finally, sincerity was shown but sadly it was never accepted.

The Resolution: Unfortunately, Ali and Frazier never fully reconciled their differences. Frazier likely took his disdain of Ali to the grave. How could this happen? Why couldn't two guys settle their differences, especially such great warriors. It's very sad to think about, and sadder to see the impact this rivalry had on Joe.

Ali vs Frazier III, its pre-fight antics and drama, as well as its location symbolized their rivalry and is nearly Shakespearean-like in its star-crossed ending.

Ali went on to  become a global icon, reaching a level of popularity no other athlete had reached. He is considered one of the greatest living athletes and even one of the era's great philosophers. And aside from being a boxing legend, Muhammad Ali has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious awards and is considered one of the great social activists of our time.


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Joe Frazier, on the other hand, sadly just faded into near irrelevance in comparison to Ali. He never gained global status anywhere near Ali's and never became an international icon. Although he is considered one of the greatest living heavyweights in the history of boxing, he was greatly under-appreciated in a sense. Even his own city of Philadelphia has erected a statue of a fictional boxing character Rocky Balboa without having done the same for Joe Frazier.

While it was one of sports greatest rivalries, it's very sad the way it ended. Both were the greatest to ever fight. They showed heart and the will of a champion, but it's sad to think that one champion's heart may have died broken.

Rest in Peace Joe Frazier.