Monday, October 1, 2012

The Thrilla in Manilla



I don't know who we have in the way of boxing fans, but today marks the day of one of the greatest fights in boxing history.  There was a documentary made a few years back on the fight, which pitted bitter rivals Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in one of the most brutal fights in modern boxing.  As a documentary it wasn't as good as the superlative When We Were Kings, which documented Ali's epic win over George Foreman the previous year in Kinshasha, known as the Rumble in the Jungle.  Unlike Frazier and Ali, Foreman and Ali remained friends.  I'm not sure what it was that caused so much animosity between Frazier and Ali.


Of course, there was Ali's endless stream of taunts leading up the fight, but he did that with every opponent.  Joe Frazier took those taunts more personally given their relationship in the past, but I have to think much of this banter was encouraged by Don King, who promoted the fight.  This documentary exposes some of the sources for this blood feud, as well as explores the motivations for the fight, including Imelda Marcos' attempt to deflect attention away from the unrest in the Philippines at the time.  What this documentary succeeds in most is making you feel empathy for Joe Frazier, although I don't think he was the "victim" portrayed here.



Ali has been the subject of much adulation over the years, especially with him suffering from Parkinson's disease.  Perhaps the most celebratory book is this mammoth monograph put out by Taschen.  But, one of the best books is Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Tom Hauser.

13 comments:

  1. Not my thing, that's for sure -- it always feels like putting black gladiators in the ring to fight it out for the nation's entertainment. But received a copy of this book last week which might be of interest to some of you:

    http://www.amazon.com/Longest-Fight-Boxings-American-Champion/dp/0374280975

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  2. I think where Ali benefits is that one doesn't have to be a boxing fan to appreciate him.

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  3. Not all boxers have been or are black.

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    1. No -- point taken. And part of the "thrill" of some of these matches is pitting races against one another. I'm also sure there must be a handful of upperclass boxers out there, too, so it's not just a class thing ....

      But there is still something unsavory in my mind about boxing as "sport" or "entertainment."

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    2. In the lower weight categories most of the fighters are Asian or Latino. These bouts have much more action and are FAR more exciting.

      My dad was a club fighter (the equivalent of semi-pro baseball) in Puerto Rico during the 1930s. I tried PAL (Police Athletic League) in the 1960s but was too wimpy to stay with it.

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  4. It was interesting how the documentary made the claim that Frazier was equated with white America. Ali was disliked by a broad cross section of America for his conversion to Islam, his black nationalism, and his position on Vietnam. I think it was the main reason he was determined to have the Foreman and third and final Frazier fight on foreign soil, where he knew the crowd would be behind him and unsettle his opponents. It really worked to his advantage against Foremen, not so much against Frazier, as that fight could have very easily been called a draw if not the ref ended it after the 14th round.

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    1. "the documentary made the claim that Frazier was equated with white America"


      That is accurate ~ he was accused by some of being an Uncle Tom though this was NOT warranted. Frazier was his own man. But he did not harbor ill feelings towards whites. His failure to openly condemn the Vietnam war (he did not serve in the military as he had several children) and his willingness to work within the system rather than to criticize caused some to attack him in that manner.

      In Africa, Ali was revered even more so than in the USA. When the fight with Foreman was initially postponed both were forced to stay in Africa. For a month all they heard was "Ali kill Foreman". That would have scared anyone.

      BTW, it was Frazier's corner that ended the fight after the 14th. About one minute later Ali passed out.

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    2. Apparently, Frazier was against the war as well, although he didn't have to show his defiance since he wasn't drafted. I agree that he was his own man, and unfairly ridiculed in the lead up to the fight, but much of that ridicule came from the press.

      Ali was not very popular in the US beyond the black community. His decision to join the Nation of Islam isolated him even further from the American mainstream.

      Foreman had no idea what he was stepping into when he went to Zaire. he thought as a black man he would be as openly welcomed as was Ali, but to his genuine shock he was not. Ali won the psychological war in this one.

      I think Frazier was pretty much unfazed by the press and the limelight that surrounded Ali. One of the reasons Frazier was a heavy underdog is because Foreman had crushed him in 73, with many forgetting that Frazier had Ali's number. Ali barely survived that one.

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    3. "I think Frazier was pretty much unfazed by the press"


      Actually much of the media liked Frazier very much. I distinctly remember Bill Gallo of the NY Daily News (it was a right wing paper at that time) greatly praising him. He was, after all, a great boxer. Gallo had more of an anti-Ali agenda but Frazier well deserved the praise.

      And then there was Howard Cosell. Um, well he's a guy I'd rather not talk too much about. While he was palsy-walsy with Ali, he did his level best to call it down the middle.

      Interesting how reports were that Ali & Frazier did become pals after all these conflicts.

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  5. I remember all that "great white hope" business. Again, not my thing, although I was a fan of the anti-Vietnam war Ali.

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  6. There was a lack of quality of white heavyweights there. Joe Quarry was the "great white hope" there for awhile. It took the fall of the Iron Curtain to finally produce quality white heavyweights, but it is hard for Americans to warm up to names like Klitschko, Ibragimov, Valuev and Povetkin. Better to think of former Soviet fighters as Drago,

    http://comicbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/rocky-drago.jpg

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  7. Speaking of Great White Hopes, Stallone took the Ali-Chuck Wepner fight as inspiration for his original Rocky,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7I-98nGXcc

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  8. Fun story about Jim Brown and Ali,

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/boxing/nfl-great-jimmy-brown-quickly-gave-idea-fight-070258768--box.html

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