Written by Hombre Divertido
In the twentieth century there was no single title in sports more coveted than that of Heavyweight Champion of the World, and two of the greatest fighters to hold that title were Smokin’ Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. These amazing athletes fought a trilogy of fights that are arguably three of the best of all time. The third was titled the Thrilla in Manila and is chronicled in a Time Life Entertainment single-disc release that hit shelves on June 2nd.
With Mixed Martial Arts rapidly growing in popularity, boxing slowly continues to lose fans as the stars of the sport become harder and harder to market simply due to a lack of recognition. Though MMA is producing stars, it has yet to produce a rivalry that even comes close to that of Ali/Frazier.
This 110-minute documentary covers the history between these two great men, but the title is misleading as this is Frazier’s story. Though certainly informative and entertaining, the story certainly paints Frazier as the victim, and Ali as the bully. Input from Ali in the form of footage, interviews, or comments from anyone in his camp are sorely lacking, with the exception of Ali’s corner man and former boxing analyst Ferdie Pacheco. Unfortunately, Pacheco’s comments are so poorly communicated that they actually add weight to the case made by Frazier, his family, and supporters. When watching this endeavor, one cannot help but question some of the allegations simply due to a lack of an even perspective.
Perspective is not the only thing lacking from this documentary. Producers attempts to give the final product an urban feel worthy of the era and the streets from whence Joe Frazier stems result in what simply appears to be poor production value. Footage from the first two fights, that were included when the documentary aired on HBO, are now replaced with still photos, and the overall feel of the documentary is that of something thrown together to reap profit for those in need. The bonus material adds to the hodgepodge as the numerous additions, though informative from a boxing and human interest perspective, have little or nothing to do with the Thrilla in Manila.
The absence of Howard Cosell’s involvement, not only in this legendary fight, but also in boxing of the era, and in the careers of Ali and Frazier may be the most significant absence.
Joe Frazier was a great fighter and a classy, all-business champion, who certainly may have deserved better than he got. Muhammad Ali too was a great fighter and champion, but was also a sports-marketing genius who was well ahead of his time. Many things can be said about Ali’s antics outside of the ring as well as his religious and political choices, but few could argue that he did more to make the business of boxing successful than anyone in history.
Recommendation: These two men were amazing athletes who did indeed participate in one of the most legendary battles in the history of pugilism. The Thrilla in Manila certainly provides insight into this historic event, and is a worthwhile investment of time for both fan and non-fan alike, but it may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth as you long for not only the other side of the story, but an impartial perspective as well.