Muhammad Ali Vs Joe Frazier III
October 1, 1975
Quezon City, Philippines
Going into his third fight with Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali was a huge favorite as most experts felt Frazier was a shot fighter. In retrospect, that analysis made no sense since Frazier at 31 was two years younger and had been in less wars than Ali. One thing was certain; Frazier was hungry to regain his title and Ali would have to be at his best to defeat his greatest rival. Both men were indeed past their prime. What resulted was the most savage, brutal and compelling fight in boxing history.
Ali, at 33, didn’t move as much as he used to. He would use his height and reach advantage and potshot his opponent from the outside. The first two rounds saw Ali do just that. Late in round one, Ali briefly hurt Frazier with a short, check left hook. In the second, Ali landed several quick combinations. Rounds three and four saw Ali take a few brief respites against the ropes but continue to control the action and potshot the former champion. Frazier finally had a dominant round in the fifth, as he was for the first time, able to consistently land his signature left hook to both Ali’s ribcage and jaw.
“Smokin’ Joe” came out smoking in the sixth as he ripped a tiring Ali with several hammering left hooks. Ali had a more effective round in the seventh as he danced around the ring for the first time. While moving, Ali was landing his customary combinations and then tied up Frazier when he got inside. The eighth round was a primitive display of infighting by both men. They both stood toe-to-toe and each landed several pulsating shots to each other’s head. The fact that Ali was engaging in such a way was a testament to Frazier’s aggressive nature and will to win in what was probably his last opportunity to become champion again.
Frazier put on a body punching clinic in rounds nine and ten. I had never seen before such ferocity in which Frazier landed these punches on Ali. They were sapping the strength and will out of Ali’s body. In several books written about Ali and the fight, Ali would reiterate that after the 10th round while sitting on his stool that it was the closest thing to death that he’d ever experience. After 10 rounds, every time my father and I viewed this seminal fight, we had the fight dead even. How Ali did what he did the remainder of the fight was superhuman.
Amazingly, Ali, who in his own words just had a near death experience in between rounds, came out in the 11th round dancing and landing rapid fire combinations that bounced off the skull of the determined challenger. The second half of the round once again saw both men trading punishing blows. The barbaric infighting continued throughout the entire 12th round. At the end of the round, Frazier’s eyes were grotesquely swollen. Unbeknownst to everyone, including Ali himself, Ali was bleeding internally. Despite being 33 and in a life and death struggle, the next two rounds would be Ali at a level no other fighter has ever matched.
Ali’s performance in the 13th and 14th round were completely superhuman. Here was a 33-year-old man who was bleeding internally and had up to that point taken an incredible amount of punishment for the first 12 rounds while also landing rapid, pinpoint combinations. In all the fighters I’ve ever seen, no one accomplished what Ali did in these two rounds. In the 13th, Ali landed a crushing right cross that knocked Frazier’s mouthpiece out. Frazier’s heart and chin was equally as incredible as Ali’s punching prowess. In the 14th, Frazier was all but blind but kept coming despite taking one punishing combination after another. Finally, despite protest on the part of Frazier, Frazier’s legendary trainer Eddie Futch refused to allow his fighter to come out for the 15th and final round. Ali had won the greatest fight in the history of mankind. Unfortunately, both Ali and Frazier left the remainder of their respective greatness that night in the Philippines.
Frazier retired the following year after absorbing another beating from George Foreman. He would make a foolish one fight comeback at the age of 37 before finally retiring for good. Frazier’s post fight career was filled with bitterness over the way Ali belittled him during their trilogy. Ali ridiculed him before each fight. Before their iconic first fight, Ali called Frazier an “Uncle Tom.” Before their second fight, while both were at the ABC studios during an interview with Howard Cosell, Ali called Frazier ignorant, which set off a studio brawl between the two rivals. Finally, before their epic “Thrilla in Manila,” at a press conference, Ali took out a toy gorilla and started punching at his head, saying that was Frazier. Frazier died in 2011 at the age of 67 from liver cancer. Until his death, the bitterness over Ali’s treatment of him over the years still reverberated whenever Frazier talked about him. In my opinion, Frazier is the most underrated legendary fighter that’s ever lived.
After the final Frazier fight, Ali should’ve retired. Instead, he fought several times and was a shell of his former self. He was lucky to retain his title with controversial decisions over Jimmy Young and Ken Norton. Finally, on February 15, 1978, he would lose his title to a very inexperienced Leon Spinks. Seven months later, he would regain the title and then he retired. Unfortunately, he didn’t stay retired. On October 2, 1980, Ali would come out of retirement to challenge WBC Heavyweight Champion and his former sparring partner Larry Holmes. Ali at age 38 was woefully washed up. He took a horrific beating for 10 rounds before his legendary trainer Angelo Dundee threw the towel in before the beginning of the 11th round. He would fight one more time in a makeshift barn in the Bahamas, losing a 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick. Ali called it quits right then at the age of 39. It was three years too late.
Within a few years after his final fight, Ali began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease. His hands would begin to shake and his speech slurred. Eventually, by the 1990s, he was unable or unwilling to speak, the effects of the punishment he sustained in the last few years of his career. When my father lost his voice due to throat cancer, I saw a direct parallel between him and Ali. Like Ali, my father loved to talk. Children in my neighborhood would surround my father as he would make them laugh with his hilarious stories, just like kids did around Ali. When my father could no longer speak and verbally express himself, there was a hurt and sadness inside of him that I also saw in Ali every time I saw him on television. When Ali finally died on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74, it was the first time since my father passed 16 years earlier that I broke down and cried uncontrollably.