I haven't seen much talk about this, but it's the fortieth anniversary of one of the most brutal, grueling, and inspiring matches of all time - Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier III, the Thrilla in Manila.
Art for this one done by the great Gian Galang.
I'm only really sharing the historical pieces I'm really proud of atm, so any feedack is very much appreciated!
The Lost Round: The Thrilla in Manila, Forty Years On
As publicity stunts go, George Foreman fighting five men in one night was among the greatest failures in boxing history. As Foreman stood swinging at his fourth opponent, desperately trying to deliver the heart stopping knockout that fans had paid to see, but which had so far been absent, Muhammad Ali sat at ringside, hollering the same mantra he had through each fight that night.
'Hit the ropes! Hit the ropes!'
The same rope-a-dope which had carried Ali to victory over Foreman and allowed him to regain the world heavyweight title was now allowing nobodies—chosen to fall down in front of Foreman—to outlast the most severe puncher in the heavyweight division. As Foreman's fourth 'victim', Charlie Polite covered himself along the ropes and deflected every meaningful shot Foreman loaded up, Muhammad Ali commented to Howard Cossell:
'He's using my method... This guy is a good fighter.'
To which Cossell, reviewing Polite's record, announced to the world on a live broadcast:
'I disagree, champ. Charlie Polite is not a good fighter.'
But that was the genius of Muhammad Ali. He could find a way to win a fight he had no business being in. Cassius Clay had been one of the most talented heavyweights the world had ever seen, he had blistering speed and the ability to keep it up into the late rounds. That is, before his three year exile from boxing. When Muhammad Ali returned to the ring, he was slower, heavier, and though he could still dance, he had no hopes of keeping it up with such effortless grace for twelve or fifteen rounds.
In his later days, Ali was a study in ringcraft and savvy. He would box and dance for a round, and then hold in clinches for the entirety of the next. If he needed a knockout, he could summon the power to knock a man out. If he needed points, he'd clip off flurries at the end of rounds to win over the judges. If he got hit, he'd shake his head and have the fans almost believing that he let the blow land deliberately, just to show that he could wear it with no bother.
When Ali met Foreman for the world heavyweight title in 1974, it seemed as though Foreman were an unbeatable challenger for any boxer, let alone the slowing Muhammad Ali. Ali couldn't out punch Foreman, and it became almost immediately apparent that Foreman's ring cutting was too sharp for Ali's lateral movement. An outfight was off the cards, so Ali hit the ropes. After eight rounds of receiving Foreman's wide, swinging blows against his arms and gloves, Ali pirouetted turned off of the ropes and sent Foreman pirouetting to the canvas with a right hand to reclaim the heavyweight belt.
But the people were getting wise to Ali's game. Following Foreman, the champ took a fight with the unknown Chuck Wepner—a fight so undeserved and pointless that it inspired Sylvester Stallone's Rocky—and managed to get dragged down to the challenger's level. Following that, Ron Lyle boxed Ali up for the better part of eleven rounds, before Ali summoned a right hand to reel Lyle and poured on blows for a stoppage. There was no doubt, Ali was slipping.
After a victory over Joe Bugner in Malaysia, Ali signed a bout with Joe Frazier. The news failed to resonate with the public. It was their third meeting, and both were far past their primes but Frazier had certainly suffered the harder fall, losing to Foreman in 1973 and Ali in 1974. Fans had no idea that Ali and Frazier's third meeting would be the last great fight in either man. Certainly, no one expected one of the most brutal and dramatic fights in the history of the sport.