Original Bulletin story of the ‘Thrilla in Manila’

Muhammad Ali emerged victorious over Joe Frazier in their third and final showdown dubbed as the “Thrilla in Manila” at the Araneta Coliseum, 45 years ago today. Bulletin sports editor Lito Fernandez wrote the main story which was published the following day.

Frazier gives up in 14th; Ali going to quit?

By Lito Fernandez
(Bulletin sports editor)

Muhammad Ali, who alternately calls himself the “best” and the “greatest,” proved yesterday that he is both when he scored a technical knockout over challenger Joe Frazier in the 14th round of a bloody, vicious fight to retain the world heavyweight championship.

After the bruising contest, Ali strongly hinted at retiring: “I’m tired. My body is aching all over. I want to rest. You could have been witness to my last fight,” Ali told a press conference following his electrifying victory.

There actually was confusion over what round the fight ended since the challenger quit at the end of the 14th. The games and amusements board, however, said that the bell had not rung for the 15th round and under World Boxing association rules, it was a 14th round TKO.

Ali’s abbreviated victory, fashioned before a crowd of 25,000 at the Philippine coliseum which included the First Couple and their daughter Imee, settled once and for all the question of who was the better man.

There was no knockdown but the champion had Frazier in the 13th and 14th rounds.

The fight, which was beamed in 79 countries around the world via satellite, was the third fight between the two. Frazier won the first on March 8, 1971, and Ali evened the score on Jan. 28, 1974.

A joint venture of the Don King Promotions and the Philippine government, the bout, the first heavyweight title fight held in the country, lived up to its billing as a “thrilla in Manila.”

The two fighters slugged it toe-to-toe virtually from the outset and by the end of the 12th round, both were exhausted. It was a question of who had that extra energy.

Ali, who threw himself to the canvas at the end of the fight as he had done in his previous bouts, provided it and dealt the challenger severe punishment in the next two rounds.

The champion’s most damaging blow was a vicious right early in the 13th round which sent Frazier’s mouthpiece flying into the third row of ringside. By the end of the round, the challenger was spitting blood and his left eye was almost closed.

Ali, who had appeared to be tiring in the middle rounds, continued his bombardment in the 14th round but the challenger astonished everybody by refusing to go down. The crowd, in fact, was completely taken by surprise when referee Carlos Padilla, Jr. signalled at the end of the round that the fight was even.

The 33-year-old champion was leading in all scorecards when the end came. Padilla had it 66-60 while Judge Larry Nadayag and Judge Alfredo Quiazon had it 66-62 and 67-62, respectively.

The Bulletin had Ali ahead, 66-63.

After examining the challenger’s eye, Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer-manager, told Padilla to stop the fight.

“It was a heck of a fight. I wanted to continue,” said the challenger, who was stopped only for the second time in his career.

Ali admitted after the fight that he was hurt several times by the challenger, weighed 224-1/2 pounds while Frazier, bidding to become the third man in boxing history to regain the heavyweight crown, came in at 115.

Ali also enjoyed a three-inch advantage in height and a six-inch edge in reach.

The two heavyweights moved like flyweights with Smokin’ Joe chasing Ali all over the ring and the champion trying to keep the challenger at bay with his elastic jabs.

Ali, who was able to use his “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” style only twice or thrice throughout the fight, won the first two rounds mainly due to his series of jabs that found its mark time and again.

Smokin’ Joe, however, kept up the pressure to win the third and fifth rounds and had his biggest round in the sixth when he repeatedly connected with his biggest punch — a left hook to the jaw, It was the same punch that felled Ali in the 15th round of their first fight four years ago.

Refusing to give Ali enough punching room, Frazier would pin Ali at the ropes or at a neutral corner in almost every round but the champion, using his speed, would jab his way out of trouble and punish the 31-year-old challenger with lightning-quick combinations.

Ali won the seventh and eighth rounds but Frazier evened up matters again by taking the ninth. They were still even until the 12th round when Ali again connected with his nifty combinations to Frazier’s face.

The President, who received the two fighters at Malacanang two weeks before the fight, congratulated Ali after the bout for retaining his title. In his message to the champion, the President said:

“The Filipino people celebrate with you your retaining the world heavyweight crown in an unforgettable match. It was one of the finest performances we have ever seen in the ring in a long time, and we are both happy and proud that this sporting event has enabled our people to take to their hearts two of the greatest fighters of our time. Our warmest congratulations.”

After the fight, the President personally awarded his trophy to Ali.

Earlier in the day, the Chief Executive had ordered the fight covered live by local and radio stations through Channels 4 and 7.

In a complimentary move, the President asked both private and government executives to allow their workers “time out” to enable them to watch the spectacle on TV.

The President, in reversing the decision of GAB Chairman Luis Tabuena not to have the event televised locally, took cognizance of the strong public clamor for a live telecast of the bout.

The President had earlier decided to watch the fight on TV in Malacanang, but he later changed his mind and went to the Philippine coliseum so he could personally congratulate the winner.

 

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