October 29, 2013
Thrilla in Manila
Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years
Oh how we all love memories.
This one great story by Lito Tacujan, one of the country’s best sportswriters in this era, is hard not to share with you Sportsmaryosep readers. It’s about a recollection of the great past. And we’re talking about “The Thrilla in Manila.” And it is with great honor to encapsulate in this blog another masterpiece by my Philippine STAR boss. And I will not prolong it any longer, so here it is:
The ‘Thrilla’ revisited (October 1, 1975)
Lito A. Tacujan
Two images remained embedded in the mind, on top of a myriad of sights and sounds that gave a surreal mix for the Thrilla in Manila that October day 38 years ago.
There was the bespectacled Ed Schuyler, the noted boxing writer of the Associated Press, leaning over to our side at the apron of the ring at the end of the bout. “ You should be proud, this fight happened here.. 25 years from now they would still be talking about this fight and Manila, “ he said.
The other was of a throbbing sea of humanity on the bleachers of the Big Dome ebbing and flowing as momentum shifted during the fight: “Ali!Ali! Ali”, thundered the crowd as the champ dominated the challenger and just a quickly there would be a roaring “ Frazier! Frazier! Frazier! ” as Smokin’ Joe came back the next round full of steam and fury.
Thirty – eight years ago this month. It seems like an eternity. But it came as vividly as If it happened only yesterday. The ‘ Thrilla’ would later rank as one of thetop three all-time best fights. I couldn’t recall the very best but am certain the Joe louis- Max Schmeling showdown – enshrined in the prose of Bob Considine — was one of the three..
(And before fight purists would raise hell, am sure one of manny pacquiao.s ring masterpieces would rank high in the New Book ofBoxing , according to the Ring).
But the ‘ Thrilla ‘ for sure had sealed itself a niche in the book of prizefight. And it got better, and better in the retelling, , in the remembering , like a treasured piece of music.
And yet, until Ed Schuyler made the verdict, we never realized that the 14 rounds of white- knuckle action and drama, which Ali aptly described as fate “worse than death ‘ was one epic bout for all time. How lucky we Pinoy scribes could get!
It was sheer two weeks of exhilarating experience. The gods and wordsmiths of sportswriting were in our midst… Red smith, will grimsley, dave anderson, dick young, schuyler. Mark Kram, and The Man himself , Norman Mailer (with a svelte of a nymphet in tow ) all in flesh and blood , driven to these distant shores by the promise of sweet mayhem of the ‘Thrilla ‘.
THE SWELTERING DAY
There were close to 27,000 fans at the Big Dome -renamed Philippine Coliseum by the Marcos regime at that time seeking legitimacy to its martial rule. The bleacher section was packed to the last seat as early as 3 a.m as fans poured in from all over.
One fight fan took an eight-hour bus ride from daet in Bicol , watched the fight from the nose-bleed tiers and endured the same travel time back home for the experience of a lifetime.
” he never got tired of talking about it. It was one of the highlights of his life,” said STAR business writer Rica Delfinado of her father’s doggedness to witness the bout and unwittingly gained a piece of sporting history.
By dawn there was a mammoth crowd in cubao Which was crawling with security, cops highly visible everywhere and presidential l guards looking mean in every corner.
Writing for AP, will grimsley, would fire a one – liner of a fight -day lead: ‘Everybody was searched at the gate.’…he would move on to describe how the protagonists motorcades would reach the coliseum for the fight. Coming from across town, the long line of cars would be headed by black limousines which ferried Ali and Frazier. From a distance, one read grimsley, it looked like a funeral. In a sense, It is, but for whom? That’s the question. ( oh the joy of sportswriting! ).
The thrilla was a duel at midday.television prime time inUS decreed it would be held close to 11a.m. And with a capacity crowd restless and impatient, and all the tv cable lights and ring lights trained on the two, it was humid, sweltering day and with 14 rounds of brutal punishment, it was as Ali would later say .. ‘ closer thing to dying that I could think of ‘
Some of the phrases that came out Afternthe fight would pass the test of time.
Who could ever forget mark kram ‘ Lawdy, Lawdy, he’s great”‘ and ‘ I hit him with blows that could have felled the walls of the city’.
An all-out Frazier man… Red Smith would say ‘ when time heals the passion of the sweltering day, an objective historian would say joe frazier was still standing in the end.’
Bludgeoned, battered to black and blue, Ali might have drawn some inner strength from the devil himself as he hit the canvas the moment smoking’ joe’s trainer Eddie Futch decided his boy, with an eye beaten to a pulp and now half shut from the constant drilling from Ali’s hands, have had enough.
By noon, most of the local media have bannered Ali’s win. Looking back 38 years later, one could still hear the roar, the grunts, the sickening thud as leather found flesh, the cacophonous cackle in the corner between rounds and the full- throated rhythmic chants from the upper chambers of the darkened coliseum-‘Ali! Ali! Ali!’ and ‘ Frazier! Frazier! Frazier!’
Yes, it ‘was the best there ever was!’.. Lito A Tacujan.