Muhammad Ali
Credit: Neil Leifer / Sports Illustrated / Getty Images
Muhammad Ali was once again world champion, seven years after he'd been divested of his rightful title. The Foreman fight sealed his vindication – not just in America but also with an exhilarated reception throughout the world. It had been such an unlikely feat – a myth made palpable. "People like to see miracles," Ali said. "People like to see underdogs that do it. People like to be there when history is made."

Ali had planned to make the Foreman fight his last, but he defended his reclaimed title three more times, before he announced his retirement in June 1975. When a reporter asked, "What about Joe Frazier?" Ali grew bright at the prospect. "Joe Frazier! I want him bad."

Few really expected a great bout when Ali and Frazier met a few months later, for the third and final time; both men were regarded as beyond their prime. But the personal drama between them was incontestable. The bout took place on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines, in Quezon City, outside Manila. Inside the Aranetta Coliseum, temperatures exceeded 110 degrees in the ring. Any doubt that this encounter would be momentous was immediately dispelled. These were combatants at the peak of their purposes, battling not simply for the right to a title but also for historic dominance. Frazier gave Ali the worst beating of his life, slamming his midsection, round after round, with blows meant to send his kidneys and heart into unbearable anguish. After the 10th round, Ali told columnist Jerry Izenberg, seated at ringside, that the ordeal was "the closest thing to death." In Thrilla in Manila, Ferdie Pacheco said, "This is why people get killed in boxing, when the fight becomes more important than life and death."

Ali had often shown amazing recuperative ability in a fight's late stage. In the 13th round, he hit Frazier with a right punch forceful enough to send the rival's mouthpiece flying across the ring to the fifth row of the press section. After the 14th, Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, told Frazier they were quitting. He did not want to see his fighter hurt for life or killed. "No, c'mon, Ed," Frazier protested. "Don't you stop the motherfucking fight." Meanwhile, Ali was telling Angelo Dundee the same thing he'd said at the critical point of his first bout with Liston: "Cut the gloves off!" A friend of Frazier's, sitting by Ali's corner, overheard and tried to signal Frazier, but it was too late. Futch had halted the fight. Ali, hearing he'd won, looked astounded and numb. He stood up, raised his right arm in victory, and collapsed on his back. "Frazier quit just before I did," he said years later.

In the post-fight press conference, Ali said of Frazier, "He is tough. He is a great fighter." Ali made overtures of reconciliation, but Joe never forgave him. Instead, he claimed restitution from the infirmity that Ali has lived with over the years. "I'm proud to let them see how much damage I've done to this man, both mind and body," Frazier has said. "Let them see." Years later, Ali said, "Manila was the greatest fight of my life, but I don't want to look at hell again."