Watched the Thrilla in Manilla documentary again the other night in tandem with flicking over to Cathal O’Shannon’s interview with Ali on RTE. Wowee, to have lived in such a golden age of boxing where genuine legends got in the ring with each other for nothing more than proving themselves as the best around. Lordy, but Ali and Frazier left themselves in the ring that night in the Philippines. Rumble in the jungle (Ali v Foreman) was dramatic and wonderful but this, as Ali’s doctor recalled during the quite brilliant documentary, was boxing at its most violent, most thrilling, most stunning, best (or worst).
It was 14 rounds of pummelling the lard out of each other and no let up - where first Ali pounded Frazier but couldn’t knock him, then Frazier smacked the arse off Ali for the middle rounds and then the sheer bloody brutality of the final rounds, with a more or less blind Frazier getting hit with bomb after bomb from a super-aggressive Ali. So much so that Frazier’s corner retired him on the stool before the final 15th round. Little did they know what Ali was on the verge of retiring himself at the time, and when the great man heard of Frazier’s corner’s decision, he collapsed with exhaustion. “Lawdy, I hit him with punches that’d bring down the walls of a city,” Ali declared afterwards. Frazier, when asked in the documentary if he’d have risked his life for a chance at that last round, said yes. Boy, was it a cocktail of bravery and genius.
Frazier was never the same again and it was sad to see the bitterness and cruelty that’d take hold of him over the years since; many would say he was never the brightest ticket, but mocking Ali’s current state and taking glee in the part he’d played had a nastiness to it. Ali was never quite the same boxer afterwards either, but for all the silliness and pomp and bravado and bombast there was little doubt of his greatness, both as a boxer and as a man. The interview with O’Shannon on RTE was sensationally entertaining, Ali rattling off stream-of-consciousness rants that still managed to make sense. Sure there was contradictions in him, but we’ve not seen a boxer (or you could argue sportsman) like Ali since and we’re unlikely to.
Watch Thrilla in Manila doc here