Weekend Watch: The Thrilla in Manila

Profile Picture: Jeremy Balan

March 27th, 2020

With nearly every major sports league suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports fans around the world are yearning for a return to normalcy. 

The sports we love will be back, but in the interim, as we wait out the virus that has turned our world upside down, it's important to stay connected to the games we love. There are still events to wager on, if you're looking to scratch that itch (my preference is horse racing), but in the absence of live viewing options, why not take a look back?

Our Weekend Watch feature will touch on the seminal moments in sports history, and luckily for us in this modern age, many of them are viewable online, in their entirety.

Our first entry is one of my favorites, the third match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, maybe the best — and most grueling — fight in boxing history.

The Thrilla in Manila, 1975

Ali and Frazier were both undefeated as they headed into their first fight. Frazier won the first bout — another classic — by unanimous decision, but Ali evened the series with his own unanimous victory in a 1974 non-title fight.

For so many reasons, Ali commanded the spotlight then and in retrospect (Will Smith didn't get nominated for an Oscar for portraying Frazier), but it's Frazier's performance in the third bout, on an absurdly hot night in the Philippines, that has always captivated me, even though he was defeated.

From start to finish, Frazier attacked relentlessly and fearlessly. He never stopped advancing, and despite Ali's best efforts (he nearly sent Frazier through the ropes in the first round), "the Greatest" never knocked Frazier down. Frazier recorded the only knockdown in the three-fight series, when he unleashed a vicious, lunging left hook that sent Ali to the canvas at the end of their first fight.

Ali kept battering his rival's head, yet Frazier kept coming. Frazier kept hammering Ali's body, but the champ stayed upright, and of course found time to taunt his opponent.

Both refused to give up — which was no doubt fueled by their genuine hatred for each other — and even though Frazier's corner stopped the fight after the 14th round, it did so against Frazier's wishes, even though he could barely see.

Ali said the experience was "like death" and that he, too, would have quit soon after. The punishment was so severe that Frazier openly contemplated retirement immediately after the fight.

Ali raised his hand at the end, but he could barely stand as he did it, and fell to the floor seconds later.

"We went to Manila as champions, Joe and me, and we came back as old men," Ali said.

So let's sit back and enjoy Ali taken to his limit by Frazier, who gave everything he had.