ERDUNN wrote:THE GREATEST HYPOTHETICAL SPORTS QUESTION OF ALL TIME
While watching HBOâ€™s Thrilla in Manila, chronicling the epic 1975 Heavyweight Championship title fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the notion that I have long considered to be the quintessential hypothetical question in the history of sports was finally asked: What would have happened if Joe Frazier answered the bell for the fifteenth and final round in what I recall a major news media outlet called a â€œparticularly savageâ€ fight?
Due to Frazierâ€™s eye closing shut, Ali was re-taking control of the fight in the later rounds. But given the merciless body attack he absorbed for 14 rounds, compounded by the stifling 120 degrees heat in the jammed packed arena, he even admitted that he was â€œnear deathâ€ and was fighting on pure adrenaline.
Some people speculatively insist that Frazierâ€™s main corner man, the veteran Eddie Futch, who bore witness to eight ring deaths in his career and knew a fighter on the brink when he saw one, threw the towel in just seconds before Ali was ready to quit, who subsequently collapsed from exhaustion in the ring.
After seeing this classic fight dozens of times and hearing many different interviews from the two fighters, their handlers and just people who were at ring side, Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that Eddie Futch made the right decision to stop it when he did. How do you let a man who canâ€™t see fight against the Heavyweight Champion of the worldâ€”even if he was as physically compromised as Ali was at that moment?
Weâ€™ll never definitively know of course, but I believe that if Frazier was allowed to come out for the final round, that something very tragic would have happened to himâ€”and perhaps Ali as well.
In any event, Thrilla in Manila is riveting must-see TV and certain to garner a handful of Emmy nominations.
I watched this documentary as well. It was very good.....although it's not exactly "new". Former Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram (who has since passed away) published a book some 7 or 8 years ago, titled "Ghosts Of Manilla: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier". Kram covered the fight for SI (in fact, I have a copy of the issue, from October of 1975----TERRIFIC piece!). Essentially, "Ghosts Of Manilla" is the book equivalent of the HBO documentary.
In fact, the HBO doc was already two years old at the time of it's release (you'll notice that it repeatedly refers to Frazier's age of 63......when in fact, he's now 65. Probably licensing issues delayed it's release).
As for the fight itself......I've watched it from beginning to end probably 300 times, and have it on DVD. Still one of the three most brutal & physically debilitating heavyweight championship fights I've ever seen (and I've seen virtually ALL of them). The others that are comparable (in terms of length & savagrey) that come to mind are Ali/Frazier I (in 1971) and Larry Holmes/Ken Norton (in 1978).
Would Ali have "caved" or "quit on his stool" if Frazier had answered the bell for round 15, as some of his handlers (such as Dave Wolf) have suggested?
Highly doubtful. Both men were fighting on pure adrenaline by that time. Ali had contemplated quitting after the 10th round (several rounds earlier). Both fighters were physically dead by the 14th. In that state, only Ali had the capacity left between the two to sustain an attack & inflict damage.......and it was very nearly grave. That Ali collapsed moments after the fight was waved off was, almost certainly, the the adrenaline lift----probably the same as would've occurred had the final bell sounded to end round 15 if the fight had continued.
Without question, one of the greatest epic struggles in boxing (and sports) history.......and yet also tragic in what it would contribute to the future physical debilitation of both men.
There are many physically debilitating games in the world of sports........but boxing is not a "game". It's naked, brutal combat. For those of us who love it (like me)......fights like this are Exhibit #A. For those who despise it's savagrey......fights like this are ALSO Exhibit #A.
Dispite the lines in the sand that both men drew for the other......both said this afterward:
Frazier: "I hit that man with punches that would bring down the walls of a city. Lawdy lawdy, he's great".
Ali: "The closest thing to death I'll ever know.......Joe Frazier is one beast of a man".