AMAZING Muhammad Ali came through with another breath-taking victory as he hammered Smokin’ Joe Frazier into defeat in 14 sensational rounds to retain his world heavyweight title for the fourth time this year (1975).
The fans at the Philippine Coliseum saw one of the all-time great heavyweight battles. It rivalled the first two Ali v Frazier meetings for drama and raw excitement.
Frazier had not been down but was wobbling on unsteady legs in the 14th. The halt was called by trainer Eddie Futch at the end of the round. Frazier’s face bore the marks of Ali’s solid hitting but it was a very hard fight for Ali, who did not come out unscathed.
Local odds favoured Ali at 6-5 on, and there were moments, especially in the eighth and ninth rounds, when it looked as if Smokin’ Joe just might outlast the 33-year-old Ali.
But Ali, as he has done before, called on all his resources of courage and pride to pull himself together and save the fight.
Ali did not win this one by faking or clutching. He won it by digging in his heels and trading smashing blows with a fighter who came to destroy him. The verdicts were debated in each of the first two torrid battles between the rivals who would be greats in any era. This time there was no room for argument.
Frazier, 31, did what he had promised. He came out smoking and he gave everything he had to give. But the accumulation of Ali’s hammering punches in the 12th, 13th and 14th rounds finally got to him.
Our scorecard showed Ali four rounds in front at the finish. Frazier had thrown everything in the first 10 rounds, when we had them level. From then on it was just pride and magnificent fighting courage that carried him forward into punishment.
The build-up to the Thrilla in Manila saw Ali’s domestic life in the headlines when the champ’s wife, Belinda, left for the states after just 12 hours in Manila. Apparently she objected to Ali’s relationship with Veronica Porsche, a beautiful black model from California.
Ali chided reporters with: “I won’t tell you who to sleep with if you don’t tell me who to sleep with.” But he later said the whole thing was put on for publicity purposes.
There were those who wondered if Ali’s activities outside the ring might have some effect on his performance inside it. But Ali’s admirers need not have worried because the champion gave a stirring display of bravery and fighting ability, finally beating Frazier at his own game of all-out, no-quarter punching.
Every round was exciting and each of the combatants got through with bone-jarring punches. But it was Ali who was usually picking his shots better, driving straight blows to the face and head, and switching with head-jerking uppercuts. Frazier remorselessly bored in, seeking to batter Ali down with the sheer fury of his attack.
Both have undeniably deteriorated, but Frazier had patently gone back further than Ali. The two bitter fights with Ali and the six knockdowns against George Foreman have left their mark, but Frazier was still a formidable and defiant contender who forced Ali to fight to the very limit of his endurance.
By the finish Frazier was bumpy around both eyes and had an ugly shelf of flesh above his left eye. Blood came from his mouth.
Ali was cut inside the mouth and had bruising around the right eye. But the rivals bore the pain and punishment as the fight raged unrelentingly. Both were superb.
Frazier tottered under fire in the 14th and trainer Eddie Futch almost certainly saved him from being knocked out by retiring Joe at the end of the round. A Filipino doctor was poised to check Joe over, but trainer Futch knew that enough was enough. His mind was made up that Frazier was finished for the night.
At the end of 14 rounds referee Carlos Padilla and the two judges and all Filipino officials had Ali in front by margins of 66-60, 67-62 and 66-62 respectively on the five-point scoring system.
British referee Harry Gibbs and Americans Zack Clayton and Jay Edson, all of whom have handled world heavyweight title fights, were flown out at the Philippine Government’s expense and told to stand by to officiate. But their services were not required. The Philippine controlling body appointed local officials to ensure, they said, complete impartiality.
The fight got off to a fast start and the action continued unabated. Referee Padilla tapped at Ali’s gloves when the champ sought breathers by holding Frazier around the neck. Frazier kept steaming forward as if he was on overdrive, digging hooks to the body when Ali covered up on the ropes.
There were many exciting rallies, often with Ali backed against the ropes or in corners. Frazier bobbed under many of Ali’s scything rights and left hooks, but Ali kept firing, sometimes missing with two or three, then nailing Joe with from one to five hard shots as Frazier came up from his low crouch.
The fight was so exciting that the rounds seemed to speed by. Ali won the first two rounds on our card with accurate countering, but Frazier just would not leave him alone or give him time to coast.
In the third, Ali backed against the ropes and beckoned Frazier to come to him. Joe responded, ripping in hooks to the body, sometimes tapping at Ali’s gloves as he sought chinks in Muhammad’s defensive shield of muscled biceps and forearms.
A left hook, a bit high up, seemed to jolt Ali in this round and the fans were shrieking with excitement. We scored the round clearly for Frazier. But Ali rallied back at him in the fourth, picking his spots for hooks and smashes to the head while Joe dug mainly to the body.
Frazier banged his gloves together as he surged out for the fifth, but Ali met him with a three-punch (right, left hook, right) combination.
Still Frazier came on, staying with Ali and hacking at his body with hooks, and another of those Frazier hooks to the jaw did Ali no good at all.
Frazier was really smoking in the sixth. He twice tagged Ali with really good hooks and his persistent attack and body punching seemed to have Ali under severe pressure.
Yet again Ali hit back to regain the initiative, snapping out jabs in the seventh and timing his uppercuts as Frazier charged.
The pace was killing from the eighth to the end of the 10th. Frazier was still full of fire and determination. Sometimes Ali’s counters stopped Joe in his tracks, but he just came right on in again, taking punches to land his own and grunting as he hooked to the body.
But the fight perceptibly shifted Ali’s way in the 11th when hard rights sent Frazier’s head jerking back. Frazier’s hitting was getting rather more erratic and he was showing definite signs of faltering.
A superbly-timed right hand knocked Frazier’s gum shield spinning from his mouth in the 13th, and now Joe was really taking a belting.
Ali peeled off punches in the 14th, calling his shots and smashing them in to send spray flying from Joe’s head. Frazier was swaying ominously, although still trying to throw retaliatory punches and when the bell came to his rescue, compassionate trainer Futch signified honourable surrender.
Ali slumped on a stool afterwards as his corner fanned him with a towel. He looked all-in. Asked what he thought of Frazier now, he said: “He’s the greatest after me.”
We’ll go along with that, Muhammad.
*At the weigh-in the Saturday before the fight, Ali scaled 16-0 ½ and Frazier 15-5 ½.
WHAT BOXING NEWS PREDICTED BEFORE
“THE ballyhoo stops and the serious business starts next Wednesday morning in Manila when Muhammad Ali faces old foe Joe Frazier in Superfight III.”
Boxing News anticipated another fascinating encounter between the two greats. Both were in advancing years and not the same fighters that first fought, but their conflicting styles and Ali’s jibes made it just as intriguing.
A capacity crowd of 28,000 paying up to £175 for the best seats were expected as well as millions watching in cinemas and on closed-circuit TV.
Graham Houston previewed the action: “Frazier won the first classic encounter to inflict Ali’s first professional defeat. Ali came back to win the Return Fight of the Century in January last year.
“Now the stage is set for what promoter Don King labels The Saga of our Lifetime or, alternatively, The Thrilla in Manila.”
Ali was tagged BN’s “Great Pretender” because of how he duped his opponents, but Frazier wasn’t one to be stymied by Rope-a-Dope or Mirage con-tricks and he will be “boring right in on Ali from the moment the bell rings.”
Houston added: “Ali knows that this time he’s got a fight on his hands.”
“Without having had the benefit of seeing either fighter’s preparation, and after much trepidation, I make a hesitant prediction for Frazier to upset the odds and grind his way to a terribly hard-won points victory.
“Whatever the outcome, be sure it won’t be boring.”