This one comes as a recommendation from a loyal reader of this blog and I am very appreciative of his suggestion.
One of my all-time favourite sports documentaries is When We Were Kings. The story of the Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman...the Rumble In The Jungle. All these years later, the story is still so captivating. The interviews are still so impactful. The b-roll is so fantastic.
I was excited to see that another movie featuring Ali was on the radar.
Tonight's film - Thrilla In Manila
Thrilla In Manila (2008)90 mins.
Rated: NR (some definite racial tones are covered and a bit of profanity)
"On October 1, 1975, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali was in the ring with his arch rival Joe Frazier for the third time. This fight is considered one of the most dramatic boxing matches in history. This documentary not only reconstructs the match, but shows us what was happening behind the scenes as well." (source: imdb)
Link to the film - I watched it online via youtube.
Many people consider the Ali/Frazier III fight to be the greatest fight ever. I was only two at the time so I wouldn't know. But after watching this doc, it's definitely higher up on the list.
We see Joe Frazier, present day, in the gym where he trained for the fight. He runs the place - and lives there with his son. He's in his 60's and although he's still getting around, you can see how his career has physically worn him down (not to the extent though that Ali is). The other aspect that is clearly noticeable is the monetary results of their careers in boxing. Ali, highly revered by his fans and public in general, walked away from the sport not needing to worry about money ever again. His name alone brings in millions. Frazier on the other hand is left to live a very simple life in an upstairs loft in a tough Philly neighbourhood.
Bluntly put, Frazier is ok with this as he says Ali is now paying the price for what he did and said when he was younger. The disrespect shown towards Frazier has now come back to bite Muhammad in the butt.
What started out as a strong friendship between the two (Frazier helping Ali out when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, keeping Ali in a positive light in the media, helping out with money when needed) turned very bitter when , after Joe took the vacant title that was stripped from Muhammad, Ali was reinstated. The attitude changed almost overnight.
In their first fight, Ali kept commenting that Frazier was dumb, ugly and so on. But it was relentless. Racial abuse was prevalent.
This was the point in the film where I was seeing a very interesting group of people telling the story. It's a shame that the two main figures can't fully express themselves - giving the true, absolute picture.
Joe Frazier was backed by a group called Cloverlay (a very 'white' group) while Ali was backed by the Nation of Islam (who was at the time talking about a merge with the KKK....Ali even spoke at one of these rallies. Crazy!). Ali portrayed Frazier as a traitor to the black community.
Interestingly though, it was Joe who was more the working class black than Muhammad. Public perception (which was drawn out by Ali) can be very telling.
1971, the first fight. This was the first time two undefeated champs would face off. Dubbed the Fight Of The Century, Frazier was dominating. He knocked down Ali in the 15th round and eventually won by unanimous decision.
Their second fight, in 1974, was not thoroughly covered. The interview leading up to the match where the two got into a scrap was however. An anticlimactic fight, Ali won it on pints. A lot of clutching and grabbing.
That fight wasn't for the belt, since Joe lost it to George Foreman earlier. George destroyed Joe in just 2 rounds. Hence the lesser impact. Ali in turn took the belt from Foreman (the Rumble in the Jungle) setting up this grudge match.
Fight 3, which Ali initially viewed as just an easy payday became a spectacle when he was walking around with his girlfriend and hitting on women....while his wife was at home. Muhammad's poor decision making were once again in focus in this doc.
The first fight to be broadcast live via satellite, would be fought in the early morning to accommodate the US audience (since the fight was taking place in the Philippines. A last minute referee replacement brought even more drama and questioning into the fight.
Ali won the first few rounds and started playing to the crowd. But by round 5, Frazier started to dominate. A fairly even match, Ali finds some strength in the 13th round and knocks Frazier's mouthpiece into the 5th row. Ali starts pounding Frazier hard, but Joe was going on heart and determination.
Round 14. That's all I'll say about that. Watch it. Many say that Ali hammered Frazier so much that he nearly killed him.....but he wouldn't go down. The will to keep going was tremendous.
After that round, apparently Ali wanted his gloves cut off....he was done. Joe on the other side of the ring wanted to continue. The doctor though decided to stop the fight as Frazier was not in a condition to continue. Ali wins...and collapses - exhausted.
Joe Frazier, asked point blank, said he would have risked his life to go out there for the final round.
After the fight,Ali tried to reconcile with Frazier....by apologizing to his son. Joe wants to know why Muhammad never decided to speak to Frazier in person.
Joe seems to take pride in the condition that Ali is in these days - even taking responsibility. He got what he deserved.
In a postscript, Ali claims that everything he said was all for the promotion of the fights and not personally directed towards Frazier.
Boy, does this doc make a person think. What really was the motivation? What really is the truth? There are a number of people in this doc who claim to know.....but unless your name is Ali or Frazier, you don't. And Ali definitely does not come off in this doc looking very good. My perception of who he is changed slightly....now I need to know if it's validated.
The interviews are really good (at times though very one sided) and I would have liked a little more of Joe (I don't know how good his clips would have been). The archive footage is top notch and the filimg of various sets really blends the entire film together nicely.
An interesting story without question (one I didn't fully know) and it makes me want to find out more. If you're a fan of When We Were Kings....I think you'll like this offering as well.
4 out of 5
Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...
Well.....that's it. Thanks to everyone who endured my ramblings. I'm thrilled to have accomplished this little experiment and have quickly realized that there are a lot of good, quality sports docs out there.
So go find them.
Now what am I going to do?