Considered one of the greatest fights of 20th century boxing, Ali-Frazier III, The Thrilla in Manila, was a brutal 14 round slug fest. The mood of the fighters and their training camps were completely opposite prior to the fight. Ali felt Frazier was past his prime, that he was doing Smokin’ Joe a favor by giving him one big payday before retirement. He and his trainers were relaxed and confident.
Joe Frazier was deadly serious, training as hard as he ever had. Muhammad’s constant needling of Joe – Ali claimed he was only trying to generate publicity – had gotten under Frazier’s skin. He was a man on a mission to unseat Ali, then the reigning heavyweight champion of the world.
Uncharacteristically, Ali did not dance, but came out flat-footed and charging straight at Frazier to begin the bout. For the first rounds, Ali threw a flurry of brutal combinations that had Frazier staggered at times. Showing dogged determination, Frazier kept coming back at Ali, absorbing grinding punishment, and finally getting in shots of his own.
The first part of the fight was considered Ali’s victory, the middle rounds were thought to go to Frazier. Everyone agreed the two men were punishing each other in great boxing style. No one could predict that both fighters could hold up for 14 rounds of vicious punishment in Manila’s heat. The fight went down to the wire, both men proving valiant warriors, and the outcome in doubt up until the dramatic finish.
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