Ali's wits, stamina proved edge in "The Thrilla"

9/28/2005 - Boxing

Editor's note: Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of "The Thrilla In Manila," the final installment in the legendary Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy. In honor of this fight and in anticipation of Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones III on Saturday, ESPN.com explores boxing's -- and other sports' -- great trilogies this week.

Mention the name Muhammad Ali, and thoughts spring to mind of the phenomenal pugilist who at once was a fierce competitor inside a boxing ring and a beloved figure outside of it.

A real fan remembers when Ali's boxing technique was working almost to perfection. He was something that had no comparison with anything or anyone else, unless you were one of those boxing fans who watched a lot of old films of John Arthur Johnson, aka Jack Johnson.

Ali is a modern and more complex parallel to Johnson, the first African-American to win the world heavyweight title. Like Johnson, Ali was one of the few fighters to employ palpable psychological tricks inside the ring that perplexed many. When you watch film of Johnson in action at the beginning of the 20th century, you see where Ali learned some of his tricks. He was not the original peculiar funny man who used psychological weaponry to shake up and confuse his rivals inside and outside of the ring.

Ali's intellect really came into play in "The Thrilla In Manila," the final installment in the Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy. This was one of the greatest and most belligerent fights in the history of the game. As great as the rivalry was, the third Ali-Frazier encounter is the one most people remember. Here, Ali demonstrated he was not only smarter but even more macho than his great rival.

How did Ali become the last man standing in this brutal marathon that featured 100-plus degree temperatures, even on an October morning?

First, Ali made Frazier miss at will during various key moments. Then, Ali showed very clearly his ability to control Frazier when he had to, and then to withstand all that Frazier had to offer. Ali displayed a combination of intelligence, character and machismo that few boxers have.

Frazier was no slouch, but he made some tactical mistakes that cost him. He got the worst of a series of exchanges that reflected the macho side of two courageous men.

The Thrilla In Manila was the last of the Ali-Frazier rivalry. Frazier won the first duel, a sensational encounter that took place at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. The second fight -- also at MSG, on Jan. 28, 1974 -- was similar to the first. This one was won by Ali.

Their third encounter was the one I couldn't find space in the sport pages of New York's el diario/La Prensa to place all the adjectives that could fairly and impartially describe this fight. The combination of muscle, character, machismo, speed, intelligence, roughness and determination got together as never before in a ring. This fight satisfied and stirred every boxing fan.

What shocked everyone was the finish, when Frazier's corner refused to allow him to fight the 15th round. An equally exhausted Ali slumped in his corner, the survivor.

The finish only enhanced the greatness of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Muhammad Ali, or simply as he was and still is, "The Greatest."

José "Chegüí" Torres won the Olympic silver medal in 1956 for the United States and was the light heavyweight champion of the world in the mid '60s, retiring with a record of 41-3-1, 29 KOs. He is the author of several books including "Sting Like a Bee: The Muhammad Ali Story." Chegüí is ESPNdeportes.com boxing columnist as well as color commentator for ESPN Deportes and ESPN International.