Interview date: 09/06/2009
Run date: 09/14/2009
The “Thrilla in Manila” was the third and final fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and is widely considered to be one of the greatest fights of all time. Frazier and Ali had split the first two fights, and Ali was coming off his surprising victory over George Forman.
HBO recently aired an incredible documentary, Thrilla in Manila (now available on DVD from Time Life), which tells the story of the fight and this incredible rivalry through the eyes of Joe Frazier. Frazier had helped Ali when he had been stripped of his boxing license and the two men were friends, but all of that changed as Ali began a series of personal attacks on Frazier leading up to their various fights. Ali’s statements and antics were particularly vicious leading up to this fight, all of which is exposed in this documentary. Frazier’s anger towards Ali has not subsided through the years, and he’s quick to note that he must have inflicted serious damage on Ali as evidenced by his current condition.
While Ali talked, Frazier was determined to win the third fight, and the result was a boxing classic. We were thrilled here at Bullz-Eye.com to have the opportunity to speak with Joe Frazier about the fight and the documentary.
Bullz-Eye.com: Mr. Frazier it’s a real honor to speak with you. We watched the DVD, which was very interesting and entertaining, so again, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Joe Frazier: Yeah, (the DVD) took awhile to put together, but you have to tell the world what was really going on during that fight.
BE: Absolutely. For guys like us, we remember the fight but we were just kids, so we didn’t see a lot of what happened before hand. We’ve seen the footage of the fight throughout the years, but this DVD really showed everything that led up to the fight and the relationship you had with Muhammad Ali. So my first question is, after going through everything with the DVD, watching the fight again, and then seeing the final product, do you feel any differently? Or is your take on the fight still the same?
JF: Well I’m going to knock you upside your head and see how you handle it…see what happens when you have a confrontation with a guy and going to battle. (Laughs)
JF: It’s one of those things where people claimed that he had the best fight in the world. People claim that he whooped me three times. But something went wrong somewhere down the line…I can’t remember whether or not I beat him or he beat me up. But the proof was in the pudding. (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) How did you feel watching the actual fight again? Did it bring back a lot of memories to how difficult it was for both of you guys?
JF: I wouldn’t say it was a difficult situation for me. I had my mind trained on what I was supposed to be doing and getting the job done well. I had some good guys in the corner with me…and obviously they were great guys who I loved having in my corner. And I wouldn’t have traded them for all the tea in China. (Laughs)
BE: In the 15th round of that fight, do you think Ali would have come out? And if he did, how do you think the fight would have ended?
JF: I wouldn’t know, because at that point my eye was closed – I was blind in one eye. I couldn’t see out of my one eye, so if my other eye got closed, I might not have been able to take the punches. So that’s why Eddie (Futch) calls the shots, because I’ve been going blind since ’64. (Editor’s Note: Joe was partially blind in his left eye due to a training accident.) For boxers, doctors and trainers are your best friends when you need them.
BE: Mr. Frazier, in all of your fights, you were always in such great shape and you always seemed to just keep coming and coming. Was it just natural for you or did you just train for these fights like crazy?
JF: That was my style. You know, I’m not going to run away – I’m going to run after (my opponent). And I got the job done very well. I lost to that big guy, which we don’t want to talk about…
BE: (Laughs) George!
JF: Yeah, George – that big monster! (Laughs)
JF: He’s like a rubber ball, you know – I punch him, he bounces back. I punch him, he bounces back. But you know, there are only two true heavyweight champions in the sport and that’s Joe Frazier and George Foreman. The other guys are middleweights and light-heavy. Did you understand what I’m saying?
JF: You see, these guys were no big guys – they grew up to be big guys. But George and Joe were big guys right from their mommas!
BE: (Laughs) But Ali was a big guy too and you took it to him.
JF: He wasn’t truly a heavyweight – he was more light-heavy. There’s a difference between using a sledgehammer and a hammer. One’s bigger than the other. (Laughs)
JF: A sledgehammer is a sledgehammer! (Laughs)
BE: I know that was a tough fight with Foreman; did you ever want to fight him again or did you just think that his size and his style was not a good fit for you?
JF: Well, he’s a little older and I’m a little older…yeah, I want one more shot at him one day.
BE: (Bursts into laughter)
JF: (Laughs) He’s a great guy, man, all the way around. I fought him two times and lost, so maybe he’ll break down and let me win one. But that’s a lot to hope!
BE: The Ali-Frazier I fight - the first fight - when you hit Ali in the 15th, which was early on, you hit him with a left and knocked him down. I can’t believe how quickly he got up. But at about a minute-thirty in that fight, you hit him with another left and I swear it looked like you took his head off and he didn’t go down. He must have had a tougher chin than any of us knew about.
JF: Ah, you’re going to get me in big trouble. But yeah, I hit him all night in his head and he kept saying it didn’t hurt. I went back to my corner, I spoke with my trainer and I asked, what’s holding this man up? And he said, if you keep hitting him with the left, he’ll fall after awhile. And Ali did. So you know, practice makes perfect and I just want to thank all the guys who helped me over the years and kept me in shape. But these guys were tough guys and great guys, and I want to give thanks to them.
BE: What was your impression of Mike Tyson and his career? How do you think he would have faired in your era, which was probably the best era in boxing history?
JF: (Laughs) You heard that right? Tiiiiiimberrrr!
BE: (Laughs) You think he would have gone down, huh?!
JF: (Laughs) Mike was a wonderful kid. You see, he grew into a heavyweight himself. But in our era he’d be using a hammer vs. a sledgehammer. You know what I mean? My hammer was a little bit bigger than his hammer. (Laughs)
JF: Where are you?
BE: Well, two of us are based in Cleveland and one of us is in Chicago.
JF: Ah, okay – well tell everyone I said hello.
BE: Yeah, we’re going to come see you at your gym in North Philly pretty soon.
JF: Pretty soon? We’ve got that thing closed down now.
BE: What? Really?
JF: Yeah, we’ve got that thing closed down now, man. “The Captain” was closed down. (Laughs)
BE: I see, so you’re just relaxing – you’re retired right?
JF: It was a good place for the young men to go and for the young ladies to go to try their luck at boxing. It’s been a long road for me. I got nobody to help me with the gym, but me...and it’s tough running that place with only one guy. It presents problems so you know, we had to tear “The Captain” down.
BE: Well Mr. Frazier, congratulations on an incredible career and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We really enjoyed the DVD and learning more about the history of your career. It was very entertaining and very interesting.
JF: People have been very good to me over the years. You know, I come from a big family and everything I do I do for my brothers and sisters…and I don’t mind laughing and talking with the world.
BE: That’s great – thank you, Mr. Frazier.JF: All right – give my best to everybody. Bye-bye.