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Case Number 16589: Small Claims Court

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Thrilla In Manila

TimeLife // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // June 11th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Roy Hrab was a participant in the "Bumble of the Apple Crumble."

The Charge

"I'm the guy who closed down the butterfly lips."

The Case

On October 1, 1975, in the Philippines, Muhammad Ali and "Smokin'" Joe Frazier engaged in their 3rd, last, and most vicious fight. It represented the culmination of years of bitterness and dislike that had built up between the two men. The fascinating Thrilla In Manila tells the story of the last fight from the perspective of Frazier, offering an unflattering, but warranted, portrait of Ali.

The relationship between Ali and Frazier is an interesting one. When Ali refused to serve in the army during the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and was stripped of his championship, Frazier helped him get his boxing licence reinstated and lent him money. What could change such an apparent friendship into a bitter feud? Money and glory appear to be the answers. Frazier won the heavyweight championship during Ali's exile from boxing, but he hadn't defeated Ali. Also, an Ali-Frazier fight would result in a big payday for both men. This led to their first match, "The Fight of the Century," in 1971.

Leading up to that first fight, as well as the two subsequent brawls, Ali unleashed an unprovoked tsunami of insults, taunts and other abuse towards Frazier. Thrilla In Manila documents, in detail, Ali's assault on Frazier during these years. From calling Frazier an "Uncle Tom," a tool of the white man, to a gorilla, Ali degraded Joe to no end. Clearly, Ali had a flair for promoting both himself and his fights, as well as trying to get into the heads of his opponents, so, to be fair, Frazier was not the only fighter Ali mocked. Still, the overtly racial comments by Ali went far beyond the standard fight promotion rhetoric. More than that, Ali persistent characterization of Frazier as a sell-out came to be accepted as true by many in the African-American community; for example, at one point, the magazine Black Sports featured an article titled "Is Joe Frazier a White Champion in a Black Skin?" Further, Frazier's son, Marvis, during an interview in the film, states that he was beat up in school by boys who said Frazier was an "Uncle Tom" and that the family received death threats, leading up to the first fight.

All these slights may have stopped had Ali beat Frazier soundly in their first fight. However, he didn't. Instead, Frazier won by unanimous decision, becoming the first fighter to defeat Ali. This defeat seems to have stung Ali's ego greatly and served to amplify his race baiting; he claimed that the decision was the "white man's" decision and, therefore, illegitimate. The two fought again in 1974 with Ali winning by unanimous decision, but this time Frazier complained about the refereeing.

All of this led the final 1975 match. At this time, the fighters were heading in opposite directions. Ali was riding high, having defeated George Foreman for the title in the "Rumble In The Jungle." Frazier had been annihilated by Foreman in 1973. As a result, Ali thought Frazier was washed-up and that fight would be an easy payday. Plus, as a bonus, Ali decided to use the trip to the Philippines to spend time with his mistress, much to chagrin of his wife. Further, Ali took pleasure in interrupting Frazier's training sessions and punching up a toy gorilla in front of television cameras. Off camera, Ali also barged into Frazier's hotel brandishing a fake gun and threats. Meanwhile, Frazier took the fight as seriously as could be, feeding-off his ever growing hatred of Ali. The end result was a fight most brutal. By the end, Ali could barely stand and Frazier was practically blind.

I'm not much of a boxing fan, but I was riveted by Thrilla In Manila. The film itself is a mixture of footage from the 60s and 70s, as well as, new interviews the filmmakers conducted with Frazier, his family, members of his and Ali's fight teams, reporters, and biographers. Neither Ali nor anyone particularly close to him was approached. Thus, some may find the film biased in favour of Frazier, which it is, but that doesn't make it any less true or any less gripping. The story being told is not just about people recollecting glory days, it is an extremely intense tale of two men with huge egos. This is never more apparent during the interviews with Frazier (now in his sixties); his face shows no signs of forgiveness or forgetting his relationship with Ali. The bitterness in his voice, the divine justice he sees in Ali being stricken with Parkinson's Disease, and his statement that he was willing to die during the fight in Manila, are both chilling and tragic. Here's a man who will simply not allow an old wound to heal. It should be noted that while Ali apologized for how he treated Frazier to the press and directly to Marvis Frazier, he has never apologized directly to Joe. There can be little doubt that Frazier's defeat of Ali in their first fight deeply hurt Ali's pride.

As far as the video and audio aspect of the film, I reviewed a screener copy and therefore cannot comment on their quality.

There are no extras.

This is a film that transcends a simple retelling of a legendary fight, or revealing that Ali is far from a saint. It's about human nature, the destructive impact of ego, and how our actions and words can have consequences far beyond what we intend.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: TimeLife
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Sports

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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