Thriller in Manila

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If you prefer films to the fight game, you'll probably only know Joe Frasier from his cameo in the original Rocky and his guest appearances on 'The Simpsons'. If on the other hand, you're a student of the sweet science, you'll be quick to recognise 'Smokin' Joe' as one of the stars of heavyweight boxing's golden age. Right up there with Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton and George Foreman, Frazier became world champion in 1970 before going on to beat the erstwhile Cassius Clay in the so-called "Fight Of The Century".

However, it was for his role in another bout that Frazier would secure his place in the sporting annals. The "Thriller In Manila" was as brutal a boxing match as has ever been fought. While the oppressive Filipino weather and the early hour - bell time was 10.45am - would compound the sapping nature of the contest, it was Frazier's courage, stamina and fortitude that made this not only the greatest of in-ring wars but a battle Ali would describe as the closest he'd ever been to dying.

But there was more to the fight than two great athletes being taken to the limit. As John Dower points up in his excellent documentary, the Thriller In Manila exposed a thoroughly unpleasant side to Muhammad Ali's character. Long respected for his personal integrity, the way Ali carried himself during the build up to the fight was at odds with the sensitive, intelligent man who'd chosen not to go to Vietnam. From regularly referring to Frazier as an 'Uncle Tom' to sparring with a man in a gorilla suit, Ali bated his opponent in a way that was a hair's breadth from bigotry. That it was in fact 'The Louisville Lip' who had white ancestry was neither here nor there. As far as Ali was concerned, Joe Frazier was an inferior and as such was a deserving target for his scorn.

With <em>Thriller In Manila</em> clearly in the Frazier corner, you might already have guessed that Ali doesn't contribute to the documentary. However, his biographer Thomas Hauser is on hand to outline his disgraceful pre-match behaviour. And since film has already provided much from the perspective of Muhammad Ali, it's as refreshing to hear the other side of the story as it is to see another aspect of his nature exposed.

On October 1, 1975, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali was in the ring with his arch rival Joe Frazier for the third time. This fight in the Philippines, which has been nicknamed <em>Thriller in Manila</em>, is considered one of the most dramatic boxing matches in history – in the words of the voice-over, <em>They hated each other</em>. With the help of archive material and eyewitness accounts (including Imelda Marcos), this documentary not only reconstructs the match, but shows us what was happening behind the scenes as well.

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