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By Ronnie Nathanielsz

Mon, 01 Oct 2012

While colleague Eddie Alinea was given the task of being the Liaison Officer for ?Smokin Joe? Frazier, we were privileged to be chosen as the Liaison Officer of Muhammad Ali which was, without a shadow of doubt, one of the most notable and cherished episodes in our journey through time as a broadcast journalist with a passion for sports.

As Manager of Radio Station dzHP ?The Sound of the City? in Manila we had the good fortune of interviewing Ali by overseas telephone at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylania while he was in training for his rematch with Frazier.

We handled the morning show ?Morning Sounds? when we decided to try and contact Ali at his training camp. Much to our surprise when the phone rang it was Ali who answered. After introducing myself we had an amazing opportunity to talk to ?The Greatest? for almost 30 minutes. It was a lucky breakthrough and from then on things began to look up.

We were sent by then Information Minister Francisco ?Kit? Tatad to Kuala Lumpur along with dentist, Dr. Alex Magbag of Cagayan de Oro who, while practicing in Los Angeles, befriended Ali who used to visit his clinic.

Two weeks in Kuala Lumpur at the Hilton Hotel where Ali stayed with his entourage including trainer Angelo Dundee helped us get to know Ali. It was an experience.

Tatad had wanted us to try and convince Ali and Dundee to face Frazier in Manila but as it turned out then Games and Amusements Board chairman Louie Tabuena with the charm of First Lady Imelda Marcos had effectively sealed the deal with promoters Don King and Bob Arum in New York.

We met Ali in Honolulu and spent two days with him before accompanying him to Manila.

The rest is history.

As we remember the ?Thrilla in Manila? which took place on October 1, 1975 we are certain fight fans who have witnessed that classic heavyweight encounter don?t need our reflections on the fight itself.

Rather we?d like to provide an insight into what the atmosphere was like in the Presidential Suite of Ali at the Hilton on the eve of the ?Thrilla in Manila.?

Muhammad Ali confessed he was "a little nervous" 24 hours before climbing into the ring at the domed Araneta Coliseum, which was named the Philippine Coliseum for the "Thrilla in Manila".

But in an effort to dispel the butterflies in his stomach, Ali came up with a short verse on the fight:

Joe's gonna come out smokin?
And I ain't gonna be jokin?
I'll be peckin-and-a-pokin?
Pourin? water on his smokin?
This may shock you and amaze you
But I will retire Joe Fraziuh.

At 10:45am, the exact time the fight took place before a sell-out crowd of 27,000, Ali said he would feel even more nervous in his dressing room - like having "butterflies in my stomach".

"Then," he said, "when I see the crowd I will still be nervous. Then I will get into the ring and, when I see Frazier, I will begin to realize he is just a man. No bigger than me. He can be hurt.

"Then I will think about the power of God and what I am doing and thinking about, and Frazier will look so small when I think about that. The nervousness will disappear when I throw the first punch," added Ali.

Ali disclosed he would talk to Frazier during the fight.

"Show me something Joe,? he promised to say. ?Joe, you are to ugly to be champ. Too ugly to take my title from me. I am going to show you that you are nothing but a bum. Remember what I did to Foreman? I am going to cut you up tonight Joe."

The champion said he would "play with him for about two rounds" and add: ?I'm going to start getting you now, Joe."

Ali promised he was "in shape" for the scheduled 15-round title match, stressing that he had "done everything" he had to do. "I'll do what I know how. I have fought him 27 rounds (referring to their two previous bouts where Frazier won the first, Ali the second). He can't change his style. I know I have the hitting power now to knock him out."

Looking extremely relaxed, Ali, leaning back on a sofa, said the fight was "like another day in the Folk Arts Theater gym? to him?.

?Just a good workout,? he added. ?It might be a little rougher than the gym, but I have the power and the experience and I am a warrior. I have been in many big battles. I'll just go there and do what I know how. Be serious and Ill whup him."

On the night before his third showdown with Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali was in a rather pensive mood. He spoke about the meaning of the Thrilla in Manila, indicating that this fight was "different".

Frazier had decisioned Ali in their first meeting in March 1971 while ?The Greatest? comfortably outpointed ?Smokin Joe? in their second fight in January 1974, but this contest meant everything said Ali.

?(This fight is) going to settle once and for all who the true champion is," he promised.

"Whatever happens to me in the fight will not really matter" said Ali. "I thank God for the privilege of being able to serve Him. It's not me that is big. God is big. He made me whatever I am."

Ali went on: "This greatness has made me sober and humble. The fame and money is not for me personally, to buy beautiful cars and things for myself. It is for the masses of people for them to use. I give it to people. I feel so supreme in the ring because I am fighting an individual and I know Allah protects me."

Describing the fight as "the least" of his problems, Ali said he was on "such a high mental plain" that he didn't want to talk too much about the bout.

As he peeled a large Pomelo fruit with some difficulty, Ali quipped, "If Frazier is this tough, I'm in trouble."

Exuding confidence about the outcome of the fight, which Ali predicted he would win by the short route, the champion said he never thought about defeat. ?It's impossible. He who fights for the cause of God secures victory over his enemies," said Ali.

He stressed he did not consider Frazier an enemy in the strictest sense of the word. He merely stood in the way. "He is not a bad guy. He is just trying to take my job," said the champion. Ali then admitted that after the fight, he and Frazier would be friends.

Ali met with his manager Herbert Muhammad for some time in his private room, later on he watched movies in his suite and then rested. He went to bed at 8:00pm.

His schedule for the day of the fight, according to Ali, was "to wake up at 4:00am. Take a B12 shot, three iron tablets, four salt tablets, two potassium pills for my blood".

For breakfast Ali said he would have "four eggs sunnyside up, toast and hot tea with a lot of sugar in it".

The champion, who had gone 15 rounds with European champion Joe Bugner in Kuala Lumpur on July 1, 1975 in blistering heat, said: "You lose energy when you perspire, so if it goes the distance I won't be too weak. I won't eat too much in the morning because too much food slows you down."

?Basically, I have my strength because I have been resting and living right," he added.

Ali emphasized that he was now "hitting harder than ever before" and, if he had hit as hard in the second meeting with Frazier, ?I could have knocked him out."

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