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Bert Sugar: On Thrilla In Manila

Ali and Frazier, Frazier and Ali, those two great fighters shared one final evening of greatness together October 30, 1974, in a fight permanently etched in history-and in the memory of the millions who saw it and the millions more who heard or read about it afterwards.

Bert Sugar on thrilla in manila

Ali and Frazier, Frazier and Ali, those two great fighters shared one final evening of greatness together October 30, 1974, in a fight permanently etched in history-and in the memory of the millions who saw it and the millions more who heard or read about it afterwards.

The two had faced each other two times before, 27 rounds, with each winning a decision. Now they would fight 14 more rounds in this bedrock of rivalries to determine their statistical superiority. What they gave us was one of the greatest fights of all time.

Ali wanted this fight, his fourth defense since winning the heavyweight title from George Foreman less than a year earlier, not only to show that by beating Joe Frazier two out of three times he was indeed "The Greatest," but because he believed Frazier was washed-up, a mere shadow of his former self, asking, "What kind of man could take all these punches to the head?"

Then, adding to his normal background music, Ali not only named the fight but contemptuously added Frazier to his Rogue's Gallery of nicknames-to go along with calling Liston "The Bear," Patterson "The Rabbit," Chuvalo "The Washwoman," and Foreman "The Mummy"-by rattling off a typical Ali-ism: "It'll be a killa, a chilla, a thrilla, when I get The Gorilla in Manila." Adding, "Frazier is so ugly, he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wild Life." For his part, Frazier, the raging undercurrent of his resentment boiling to the top at being called a "gorilla," responded to Ali's verbal gibes and jabs with, "It's real hatred. I want to hurt him...I don't want to knock him out, I want to take his heart out."

However, it wasn't Frazier who hurt Ali in the opening rounds, but, instead, Ali who, standing flat-footed in the center of the ring, stung Frazier time and again, peppering him with quick punches, mostly right-hand leads as Frazier continued to press forward into the line of fire, head up. Before the third round, Ali, so confident of his ability to handle Frazier, stood in his corner blowing kisses to the crowd. But Frazier was far from harmless in the third, finally finding a resting place for one of his industrial-strength lefts, catching Ali on the chin. And although Ali went into one of his little "Ali-bi" charades to make the crowd and Frazier think it was little more than a postman's knock, it was to be the vague stirring of a comeback for "Smokin' Joe."

For the next three rounds, with Ali now bivouacked against the ropes, Frazier tee'd off on Ali, frescoing him with lefts to the body, trying his mightiest to beak the defending champ into smaller, neater pieces. Coming out for the seventh, now convinced he was in a fight and informed how wrong his preconceptions had been, Ali said to his tormentor: "Old Joe Frazier...why I thought you were washed up." Frazier's reply was as pointed as one of his left hooks: "Somebody told you wrong, pretty boy," punctuating his remark with a bone-rattling left.

For his part, Frazier, the raging undercurrent of his resentment boiling to the top at being called a "gorilla," responded to Ali's verbal gibes and jabs with, "It's real hatred. I want to hurt him...I don't want to knock him out, I want to take his heart out.

The sweltering heat in the arena and Frazier's relentless pressure and thunderous hooks to the body and head were showing an effect on the 33-year-old champion. At this point, Ali was neither floating nor stinging but merely surviving, as bereft of motion as a rail without wind. By the end of the tenth, it was an even fight.

Somehow, someway, somewhere Ali found that certain something extra in his makeup: that something that did much to reverse the now all-too-evident trend in the fight. By Round 12, Ali began an unmerciful assault-at one point landing five successive and unanswered punches---turning Frazier's head into a mass of lumps. It was a two-handed attack which caused blood to trickle from the challenger's swollen mouth and started his left eye closing.

In the thirteenth, Ali demonstrated his ability to finish a hurt foe. A solid left seemed to freeze Frazier in his place, then a right hand staggered him. Frazer did a funny three-step in retreat to keep from failing. But with Frazier's sight and stamina now obviously limited the outcome no longer seemed in doubt. The fourteenth was but a continuation of the thirteenth as Ali's slashing combinations-at one point, scoring with nine straight right hands against his half-blind opponent-ripped deeper and deeper into Frazier's flesh. At the bell ending the fourteenth, referee Carlos Padilla had to help guide Frazier, his legs no longer capable of fulfilling the obligations they had sworn to uphold, back to his corner.

Everyone who knew Joe Frazier knew that, as a warrior, he would not rescue himself. Someone else would have to do that for him. That someone was his trainer, Eddie Futch, who said to his beaten fighter, "Joe, I'm going to stop it." Frazier, who could have retired earlier without any criticism, tried to plead with Futch, but to no avail as Futch cut off his gloves, saying as he did, "Sit down, son...it's all over. Nobody will ever forget what you did here today."

And nobody ever will. For the two combatants had staged one of the greatest two-sided fights in boxing history, leaving their footprints in the sands of time. For all time.

THRILLA IN MANILA tells the previously unknown story of their final fight in the searing heat of the Philippines through the eyes of the "other man" in the ring - Frazier. Premieres Saturday, April 11 at 8pm (ET). Click here for more information.

Ali said to his tormentor: "Old Joe Frazier...why I thought you were washed up." Frazier's reply was as pointed as one of his left hooks: "Somebody told you wrong, pretty boy," punctuating his remark with a bone-rattling left.

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