Thrilla in Manila - Pre-fight Promotions and Training

Pre-fight Promotions and Training

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos offered to hold the bout in Metro Manila and sponsor it to divert attention from the social turmoil that the country was experiencing, having declared martial law three years earlier (1972). Don King, amused by the gesture, agreed to hold the fight at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. Produced by King and broadcast to many countries worldwide with HBO's antenna, The Thrilla in Manila had a tremendous media following.

In the lead-up to the Manila fight as well as each of their other two encounters, Joe Frazier was made to withstand a withering barrage of verbal abuse from Muhammad Ali. Ali's theme this fight was to hang a nickname on Frazier as he had done to many of his opponents throughout the years. The name he chose was "The Gorilla", and he rhymed out the singsong chant "It will be a Killa and a Thrilla and a Chilla when I get The Gorilla in Manila." while punching an action-figure sized gorilla doll. Ali explained to reporter Dick Schaap that it was part of a longstanding pre-fight strategy of his: "I like to get a man mad, because when a man's mad, he want's ya so bad, he can't think, so I like to get a man mad." This strategy worked in Ali's favor in his defeat of George Foreman, who seemed to explode with rage every round until he had exhausted himself. But Frazier was different, for he had not only skill, but confidence, stamina and the character to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances. As Dave Wolf (who was a member of the Frazier team in Manila) explained "With all of the residue of anger that Joe had from what had happened before the first fight, what had happened before and during the second fight and after these fights, Joe was ready to lay his life on the line, and... he did."

The training methods of the two fighters illustrated the contrast between the two men. In Ali's camp, the learned preparations of a brilliant champion and his legendary trainer, Angelo Dundee ran concurrently with the famed "Ali Circus" which consisted of a king-sized entourage of friends, hangers-on, and anyone who caught Ali's fancy and wanted to join in the fun. All of this was business as usual for the champion, and claims that he did not prepare for the fight are belied by the herculean effort Ali was able to deliver in the ring, as well as the pre-fight observations of legendary boxing writer A.J. Leibling who covered the match for the Washington Post. In training sessions, Ali moved well, and his punches from both hands were sharp -- showing both crispness and accuracy.

Outside of the camp, however, Ali's fight preparations were badly distracted in the days leading up to the fight. It began when Ali introduced his mistress, Veronica Porsche to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as his wife at a public event. When his real wife, Belinda, saw this on television back in the States, she became enraged, and flew to Manila to have it out with the champion. The two had a prolonged verbal battle in Ali's hotel suite, which must have affected him negatively heading into his title defense.

In the Frazier camp, trainer Eddie Futch made the decision that the hordes of people and the tension in the steaming hot city were a poor environment to prepare in. Thus, Frazier completed his training for what was to be his final shot at the championship in a lush, quiet setting in the mountainous outskirts of the city of Manila. There he led a spartan existence often sitting for hours in a contemplative state in preparation for the bout.

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