A few fights after stunning the world by defeating George Foreman in Zaire, Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier for the third and final time. The fight was epic—ranked as one of the great heavyweight fights of all-time. Recently I was asked my thoughts on the fight. Here is the question and my answer, just one more schmuck throwing his two bits into the ring.
QUESTION: Earlier this year I watched a biography on Joe Frazier, and after the 14th round of ‘The Thrilla in Manila’ Frazier had a swollen shut right eye, and was partially blind in his left eye from an accident in ’65 yet wanted to go back in the ring for the 15th round but his manager and the ref refused. However, Ali had actually told his manager to “cut the gloves off” because he didn’t have any more energy to fight the 15th round, yet the judges scored the fight in Ali’s favour. Were you able to access this footage, and would you have included it in the film? Also, in your opinion, who do you think really should have won?
ANSWER: Ali, of course, did win because Joe didn’t come out for the last round, which I think was a humane move by his trainer, Eddie Futch. Of course, Frazier wouldn’t quit under any circumstances short of death. But he literally couldn’t see, which is a disadvantage when people are trying to knock your head off. The eye injury goes back even farther than ’65. Joe kept it a secret, but was supposedly legally blind in the left eye when he won the Gold medal in ’64 in Tokyo (not to mention a broken thumb in the final fight).
In 1975, I think Ali as a fighter had more left in him than Frazier, but, in my opinion, Frazier trained much harder for the fight. Ali had a new girlfriend with him (and a wife at home) and was hanging at the palace in Manila and working with and then struggling with the press (about his extramarital affair). That’s not the ideal way to prepare for a fight with a man who wants to kill you. Frazier, meanwhile, was outside of Manila, locked away, minding his business, training his ass off.
As for the fight itself, it was brutal, a war. But Ali was safely ahead on all three scorecards*, and really hammering Joe in the 13th and 14th rounds. So even if Ali did say “take the gloves off” at the end of the 14th, I don’t think he ever would have quit, and the record shows his trainer Angelo Dundee would never have let him quit, anyway. I also have it from inside sources close to Ali that Ali has said that he never said that, or at least that he wouldn’t have quit. I believe that. He’d never quit in his life. He still flies throughout the world for 200 days a year.
For the record, Ali (when he was still Cassius Clay) evidently said the exact same thing—”cut the gloves off”—before the fifth round of the Liston fight in ’64, when he couldn’t see at all because, rumour has it, Liston had put some sort of burning agent on his gloves which had got in Ali’s eyes. Dundee just ignored him, pushed him out of the chair and said, “Dance!”, and he did. A few minutes later he was heavyweight champion of the world. And very shortly after that he was Muhammad Ali.
Dundee had great faith in Ali. I mean he let the Holmes fight go ten rounds, unfortunately, and it was over before it started—Ali was slurring before the fight. He shouldn’t have been fighting. That was 1980.
With the Thrilla in Manila in ’75, rumours aside, Ali was way ahead on points, Dundee was in his corner, Frazier was blind, and Ali had never quit. That about says it all. It was a war of attrition.
George Chuvalo’s words sum up the fight:
“Neither fighter was the same after that fight—markedly so.”
*The scoring at the end of the 14th round was: referee: Carlos Padilla 66-60, judge: Larry Nadayag 66-62, judge: Alfredo Quiazon 67-62.
Many people think Ali should have retired after the legendary Foreman fight in Zaire (1974). Many more really think he should have retired after Frazier in Manila (1975), where he fought inside for so many rounds, and took literally hundreds of powerful punches.
But Ali fought until December, 1981, ten more fights and some 120 rounds, his defense and speed deeply sub-par. Other than the ridiculously over-matched Jean-Pierre Coopman and Richard Dunn fights, and the punishing 10 round TKO loss to Holmes, all of these fights went the distance: Norton (15), Shavers (15). And, although rarely mentioned, rewatching the first Leon Spinks fight (1978), Spinks really hit Ali with a non-stop barrage of leather for 15 rounds—some 400+ punches.
Ali’s fight doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, pleaded with Ali (and his entourage) to stop fighting after Shavers (1977). Glory—and money—aside, there’s got to be an easier way to make a living!