No one knew what to expect when these two aging fighters came together that morning in Manila. Several major U.S. newspapers didn't bother sending a writer to cover the fight. But those who were there witnessed prizefighting in its grandest manner, the final epic in a running blood feud between two men, each fighting to own the heart of the other. The fight called upon all of their will and courage as they pitched from one ring post to another emitting fearful grunts and squeals.
By the end of the 10th round Ali looked like a half-drowned man who had just been pulled from Manila Bay. His aching body slumped, glistening with sweat. He had won the early rounds, snapping his whiplike jab on Frazier's face, but as in '71 Frazier had found his rolling rhythm after a few rounds, and by the fifth he had driven Ali into his corner and was thumping his body like a blacksmith. Ali's trainer was frantic. "Get outta the goddam corner!" screamed Dundee. It was too late. The fight had shifted from Ali to Frazier.
For the next five rounds it was as if Frazier had reached into the darkest bat cave of his psyche and freed all his pent-up rage. In the sixth he pressed and attacked, winging three savage hooks to Ali's head, the last of which sent his mouthpiece flying. For the first time in the fight, Ali sat down between rounds. Frazier resumed the attack in the seventh, at one point landing four straight shots to the body, at another point landing five. In the ninth, as Ali wilted, the fighting went deeper into the trenches, down where Frazier whistles while he works, and as he landed blow upon blow he could hear Ali howling in pain. In his corner after the 10th, Ali said to Pacheco, "This must be what dyin' is like."
Frazier owned the fight. He was sure to regain his title. And then came the 11th. Drew (Bundini) Brown, Ali's witch doctor, pleaded with him, "Go down to the well once more!" From wherever it is that such men draw the best and noblest of themselves, Ali emerged reborn. During the next four rounds he fought with a precision and fury that made a bloody Frazier weave and wobble. In the 12th Ali landed six consecutive punches to Frazier's head, and moments later he slammed home eight more. By the end of the round an archipelago of lumps had surfaced around the challenger's eyes and brow.
Futch could see Frazier's left eye closing. Before the 13th he told his boxer, "Move back and stand up a little, so you can see the target better." That was just what Ali needed, more room and a taller man to fire at. "Boy, did he take advantage of that," says Futch. Ali threw punches in flurries, so many blows that Frazier reeled helplessly. A right cross sent Frazier's white mouthpiece twirling four rows into the seats. Futch kept thinking, Ali has to slow down. He cannot keep this pace. Not into the 14th round! By then Frazier's face was a misshapen moonscape, both eyes closing, and in the 14th Ali fired barrages and raked a nearly blind Frazier with rights and lefts. Futch stared at Ali and thought, Incredible! When the bell tolled, it tolled for Joe.
"The fight's over, Joe," Futch told him before the beginning of the 15th.
Frazier jumped from his stool. He said, "Eddie—"
"Just sit down, Joe."
A benumbed and exhausted Ali, his lips scraped raw, lay on a cot in his locker room in Manila and summoned Marvis Frazier, Joe's 15-year-old son, to his side. "Tell your dad the things I said I really didn't mean," Ali said.
Marvis reported back to his father. "He should come to me, son," Joe told him. "He should say it to my face."