x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Another thriller for Arum

Philippines a special place for the promoter of Ali-Frazier showdown

Joe Frazier, right, and Muhammad Ali, face off in 1975.
Joe Frazier, right, and Muhammad Ali, face off in 1975.

Bob Arum, arguably the most successful promoter in world boxing, first travelled to the Philippines in 1975 - three years before Manny Pacquiao, was even born. Alongside the theatrical Don King, Arum was promoting the "Thrilla in Manila", the heavyweight title contest between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, later to be named Ring Magazine "Fight of the Year 1975".

The build-up to the bout at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City was ferocious; the two boxers, like Arum and King, shared a heated history having clashed twice before in their careers. Ali had suffered his first professional defeat at the hands of Frazier four years earlier in New York by a unanimous decision, but had his revenge in the 1974 rematch after again going the distance at Madison Square Garden, but this time dominating the judges' scorecards. The stage was set for a decisive duel to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

The Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, in order to deflect attention from his ailing power, offered Manila, the country's capital, as a host city and sponsor for the showcase. The two promoters agreed. The fight started at 10.45am local time in order to satisfy the lucrative American audience. Watchers witnessed brutal, bruising - and arguably balanced - boxing that saw both Frazier and Ali batter and bludgeon each other remorselessly.

Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, told his fighter to retire after the 13th round, but the 30-year-old refused. By the end of the following round Frazier's right eye had closed and, with an as yet undetected cataract in his left, he was practically fighting blind. At the end of the 14th Futch threw in the towel. It took Arum 30 years before he would return to the scene of one of the sport's greatest spectacles.

Since then though, he has visited regularly as he continues to promote the pride of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao. In the past 12 months he has made the trip three times: the first coming last December for Pacquiao's birthday party in General Santos, the "Pac Man's" hometown and the last coming recently in Baguio, the mountainous area where his prized fighter chose to train in preparation for Saturday's showdown with Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas.