Whether you’ve only recently learned the appreciate this ancient sport or you’ve been following it for a while, one great thing about boxing is that there are some fights that you can watch again and again. One such string of matches is the infamous trilogy between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which culminated in a final showdown between the two heavyweight titans in Manila in the Philippines on October 1, 1975. If you’re looking for something to watch before the next big boxing event, then you can sign up for ESPN+ and relive one of the greatest fights in history, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 3.
Even those who aren’t familiar with boxing are familiar with Muhammad Ali, a man who was just as well-known for his rhyming trash talk outside the ring as he was for his grace and power inside it. The name “Thrilla in Manila” was cribbed from one such rhyme, when Ali famously stated that his much-hyped trilogy bout with Joe Frazier would be “a killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila.” The fight would later go down as one of the most ferocious in the history of the sport — and one that arguably marked the beginning of the end of both men’s professional boxing careers.
The history between Ali and Frazer began with their first encounter in March 1971, billed as “The Fight of the Century.” There, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (then 26–0 with 23 KOs) met The Ring/lineal heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (then 31–0 with 25 KOs) to mark the first-ever challenge between two undefeated fighters for a heavyweight title. After 15 intense rounds, Frazier emerged as the victor via unanimous decision. The two met again in January 1974 for a rematch, where Ali took the victory after 12 rounds via unanimous decision.
In October 1975, their epic trilogy bout took place in Quezon City, Philippines, which is part of Metropolitan Manila. Ali and Frazer fought in a humid stadium with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting spectacle was one of the most brutal in boxing history: Both men fought viciously with Ali dominating the first rounds as Frazier was a notoriously slow starter. As the bout progressed, Frazer gained momentum, pummeling Ali as the latter began to grow visibly tired.
In the 12th round, however, Ali landed some blows that closed Frazier’s left eye and opened a cut over his right, virtually blinding him. Ali then followed up with an aggressive barrage of punches in the 13th round as Frazer was clearly on the back foot. Due to the intense heat in the stadium, Frazier’s corner was also unable to maintain ice packs with which to mitigate the swelling on the boxer’s face. This eventually led to both of his eyes swelling almost completely shut and his trainer, Eddie Futch, motioning for the referee to call off the fight after the end of the 14th round, which he did. This was in spite of Frazier’s protests, as he wanted to continue the fight.
Although Muhammad Ali was victorious and still the undisputed heavyweight champ, he had himself been on the verge of quitting (even telling his corner to cut his gloves off and throw in the towel, although they refused) and was visibly exhausted, briefly collapsing after the fight. He would later state that this was the closest to dying he had ever felt, going so far as to refuse to watch the replay. Ali also honored his opponent by declaring Frazier the best boxer in history — aside from himself, of course. The champion had taken so much punishment in spite of his win that he considered retirement in the moment, saying in a post-fight interview that his entire body was in pain and he was totally spent after such a vicious contest.
Ali did go on to fight 10 more times, but his days of intense exchanges of the sort he had with Frazier were clearly over and he retired from boxing in December 1981. Frazier fought only two more fights, losing one and drawing another, before finally retiring in the same month as Ali. To this day, their titanic collision in the Philippines is considered one of the most savage encounters this sport has ever seen — and if you want to witness the carnage for yourself, then you can now sign up for ESPN+ and rewatch the Thrilla in Manila: Ali vs. Frazier 3 blow-by-blow as it happened more than 35 years ago.
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