MUHAMMAD ALI- JOE FRAZIER III
October 1, 1975 in Manila, Phillipines
MUHAMMAD ALI- GEORGE FOREMAN
October 30, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire
When Muhammad Ali had been banished for his military stand of the Vietnam War, other boxers who had been fighting in Ali's enormous shadow for years finally had a chance at the belt. This is the opportunity that undefeated Joe Frazier had wanted and he snapped at it, winning the WBC title. Ali had expressed immediate hatred towards Frazier for snatching the belt he had held for nearly four years, thus sparking one of the most well known rivalries in the history of sport.
In the first fight between the two undefeated fighters, Frazier exploited the quickness that had eluded Ali following his long layoff. Frazier constantly pounded Ali and caught the challenger with a fierce left hook in the final round. Ali went down but rose to finish the frame, which resulted in a win for Frazier and Ali's first professional loss. By the second fight three years later, Frazier had lost his title to a young George Foreman. Yet in this second battle, Ali had controlled the tempo and won a relatively easy 12 round decision (despite calls from Frazier's corner that the decision was rigged). This is all led up to a third fight, dubbed ''Thrilla in Manila'', which would take place in the hot and steamy Philippines.
By this time, Ali had won back the title by way of a massive upset over George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. The unscathed Foreman had possessed a huge and booming punch, but Ali employed an extremely effective strategy called the ''Rope-a-Dope''. ''Rope-a-Dope'' involved leaning back on the ropes, while Foreman wailed away at Ali, causing Foreman to tire and his stamina to shorten. Ali went on to further explain the effects of his Foreman fight plan in the November 1975 issue of Playboy: ''In the sixth round, George was so tired. All of a sudden, he knew he'd threw everything he had at me and hadn't hurt me at all. And he just lost all his heart.'' Ali went on to knockout an exhausted Foreman with a dramatic one-two punch combination during the eighth round for the stunning victory, setting up a third championship decider with his stewing nemesis, Joe Frazier.
Tensions were building as Ali and Frazier prepared for their third and final fight. Personal rivalries had grown bitter. Ali used his wits and quick words, as usual, to bait his opponent. Ali called Frazier the "gorilla" that was doomed to "fall in Manila." Although his legions were used to his unorthodox strategies of pre-fight smack, even his greatest fans became uncomfortable with the near-racist insults.
28,000 people packed the area in Manila, while 700 million worldwide watched on television. Ali came out with the momentum, but starting in the fifth round, Frazier became more aggressive and backed Ali into tight spots and defensive positions. Ali became so worn down with the combined effects of Frazier's body shots and the searing heat, that he nearly quit before his trainer Angelo Dundee urged him back into the ring (reminiscent of Dundee's actions in the first Clay-Liston fight). Ali then proceeded to stage a rally in the late rounds before a ring doctor advised Frazier to stop before death became a tragic reality. When Ali had heard news of the decision, he rose in jubilation before collapsing due to pure exhaustion in the middle of the ring.
Muhammad Ali had won the fight and the best of three series with Frazier spread out over four years. He had once again proved his everlasting greatness and shored up his growing legacy. ''Thrilla in Manila'' was a fitting end to a compelling rivalry, and even now today, is considered one of the top three fights of all time. Meanwhile outside the ring, Ali had labeled himself as the black man's champion in contrast to labeling Frazier an ''Uncle Tom'', when it can be argued that Frazier acted and even looked blacker than Ali. This has been considered to be the one flaw that Ali had portrayed in the rivalry, and for once the imaginary line that he shouldn't have crossed was crossed. While Ali's past feuds had been for good reason on moral terms, the one with Frazier at times was foolish and unnecessary. He had taken the hatred he had towards Frazier for taking his vacant title, and channeled that into some thoughtless and careless comments, which had made Ali out to be the racist more than Frazier.
Yet, overall the rivalry would benefit both fighters in terms of fame and fortune, but in terms of individual physical condition, result in the end of both of them. Frazier never won another fight following ''Thrilla in Manila'', while Ali would linger on for another six years, fighting on and off and losing another three times, including his last two fights in 1981. It was a brilliant rivalry, but it came at a long-term cost to the two fighters who will be remembered together in the annals of lore and history for many years to come.