The Thrilla in Manila: Ali vs Frazier III, 1975

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!



10 Responses to “The Thrilla in Manila: Ali vs Frazier III, 1975”

  1. Carl Kuntze says:

    I don’t know where Mr. McCormack got the idea Ali didn’t train. I was at Folk Arts Theater, which was converted into
    a training camp for both Ali and Frazier, working out on alternate days. Ali trained hard, only pausing to give out interviews. “I want Joe Frazier,” was a periodic refrain. As
    for Veronica Porsche, he took considerable pains to keep her under wraps. She showed up once at Folk Arts Theater. I
    managed to steal a single shot, but when I tried to follow her around, two of his handlers blocked me, shaking their heads vehemently. I had to desist, and retreated. I didn’t want to be thrown out. She was an exceotionally beautiful girl. I was at the presidential palace the day both Frazier and Ali paid their courtesy call. She was nowhere to be seen.

  2. My friend, great comments. I didn’t say he didn’t train, I said, speculating from what I’ve heard and been told: “…Frazier trained much harder for the fight…”

    Ali was having an affair with Veronica Porsche at the time and spending time with her at the palace—Veronica met Marcos at a dinner, I believe—which made the news and ‘outed’ the problem to Ali’s wife and when Marcos said, “You certainly have a beautiful wife,” and Ali didn’t correct him, saying instead that Marcos did too. His wife Belinda heard the news, flew over and they had a by now relatively famous screaming match in a hotel room. Belinda went right back to the airport, flew home and promptly divorced Ali.

    When I talked to Joe, he hadn’t even heard of this relatively well-known situation, because, I was told, he had decided eventually to train out of town, trying to avoid all the hoopla. Ali trained, to be sure, but I would believe, given what I just wrote, that Frazier trained harder—and certainly was more focussed. Having an affair, getting caught, and likely getting laid, days before a championship bout, is considered quite unorthodox and generally detrimental.

    Check this out:

    And thanks for your post. Very interesting! And what an experience to be there.

    All the best,


  3. C H Burley says:

    I think I read somewhere that what Dundee said to Ali when Ali had to come out blind for round 5 against Liston was “yardstick him,” i.e. hold him off with your left. (Also, I think Dundee mollified Black Muslims at ringside, who suspected he might have been behind Ali’s blinding, by dabbing his own eyes with the sponge he used on Ali.)

    Was Frazier, or should Frazier have been, really that far behind on the scorecards at the end of the third Ali fight? I haven’t tried scoring it, but the way he was blasting Ali to the body makes me think Frazier might even have been ahead, and maybe would have won under the soft current 12-round rules. Do you have a round-by-round scoring breakdown?

    I agree it would have been wise for Ali to retire after the Foreman fight, and there’s no way he should have continued fighting after Frazier III. Winning the championship a third time doesn’t seem especially impressive, considering that it came about because he was beaten by a tomato can.

    Sorry if this sounds sadistic, but Frazier’s vision when the Ali fight was stopped was probably no worse than Sam Langford’s in a lot of Langford’s victories. I think Frazier should have been given the chance to fight the last round.

  4. Brian Roach says:

    Ali comfortably takes the first four rounds, but at least a few rounds following this are very close and subject to interpretation. Would be interesting to see the round by round breakdown but I think even giving Frazier some of the closer rounds its fairly even by round 10/11, and Ali pulls away in the last 3 rounds.

    It’s been said Futch was mainly worried about the ring being crowded by Alis entourage after the fight- if Frazier were to need urgent medical attention. However, I think the author is correct. Fraziers corner knew he had no chance of winning at the end of the 14th and there was no point in sending him out for the final round and risking serious injury.

    What a fight though- some of the exchanges are unbelievable from both men.

  5. Hey CH,

    I can’t say whether Joe should have been given a chance to fight the last round or not, but he was done, way too far behind, blind in one eye, and supposedly always blind in the other, and by the time he was in his fifties he was slurring, so…well, it’s boxing, but it was over. Sam Langford or Harry Greb, for that matter, who was also more or less blind. Anyway, god love ’em all, in a crazy sport whose function, to a large degree, is damaging another person’s brain.

    Take care,


  6. Ryan Antaw says:

    Just want to know where n if I can get a hold of footage of the entire fight , to the point where Frazier corner throws in the towel..

  7. Hey Ryan,

    I’m not sure, but I’d be surprised if the entire fight isn’t online, youtube. I think that’s one of the places I saw it.

    Good luck,


  8. jeff amador says:

    When is it appropriate to score a round even? I thought judges are supposed to really try and avoid scoring a round 10-10 (or 5-5) but clearly there were several 5-5 rounds among the three judges.
    Also, Ali doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to take a punch, he might be the best ever. Watch round 3, I’m sure the judges scored it for Ali but Frazier landed numerous hard body shots (unlike Foreman) while Ali was on the ropes but Ali took them so well it probably seemed to the judges that they weren’t landing. I think Frazier actually won the round.

  9. Lesedi says:

    I watched the fight last night. My oh my, what a war. Undisputed that Ali is the greatest of all time. He did take a lot of punishment in this fight, and intend to agree with sentiment that on today’s scoring methods Frazier might well have been ahead. However what Ali did so well was to give the illusion that he was not being hurt, by showboating and mocking Frazier. I maintain that as much as Frazier was a workhorse, he was not the smartest of fighters. He had so much firepower in this fight that if he had fought smarter he could have stopped Ali. Nonetheless, what an EPIC!

  10. Old man here. If The Thrilla in Manila is so overrated is there no really need to wright all this? Ali always said that he loved to be the underdog. I think some people find it hard to accept Alis style. Me too. But he fascinates and to this day make people wonder, lie and ave him. Now! The records must sets straight!.. I love it cause you cant do so very much more than accept- How did he do all that? No punch. No legs. Overrated. You ar adding to the living legend. Loving it. He was there. And the winner gets to wright the history.

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