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What Would Have Happened In Manila If Eddie Futch Hadn't Pulled Joe Frazier Out After The 14th-Round?

Joe Frazier15.09.09 - by James Slater - The fight will be 34 years old on the 1st of next month, yet all these years later no-one can forget the incredible rubber-match between archrivals Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Just as Frazier's trainer and corner-man Eddie Futch predicted when bravely making the decision to pull out his even braver fighter at the end of the 14th-round in Manila, no-one has ever been able to forget what Joe did that day - and neither have they been able to forget what Ali went through.

It may be partly due to the sympathetic actions of the man many have called the finest trainer in boxing history that Ali-Frazier III; "The Thrilla in Manila" has continued to be the subject of such fan interest though. The debate still rages here in 2009: what would have happened if Futch had not pulled "Smokin'" Joe out before the 15th and final round could get underway?

The fight, as all fans are ware, was one of the most brutal, the most damaging and the most fiercely fought in boxing history, and after those astonishing 14 rounds were over neither guy had much left at all, if anything. But Joe, his eyes pounded shut (one of which only had partial vision going into the fight due to a 1960s injury Frazier had suffered yet kept secret) was deemed to have been in slightly worse shape that Ali, and Futch, fearing for his fighter's very life, pulled him out.

Frazier was so incensed he refused to speak to Futch for a long time afterwards, such was his very real desire to either beat Ali or, without being melodramatic, die trying. Yes, Frazier, as he again confirmed in the recent and quite superb Thriller in Manila documentary, would have been willing to risk his life by going out for that 15th-round. And though it is pure speculation and nothing more, in this article I put forth my opinion on what might have happened had the two men been allowed to come out for that final three minutes.

Ali, as we also now know for a fact, was so tired and utterly exhausted that he asked his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to "cut 'em off" as he slumped on his stool after the 14th-round was over. Dundee ignored his fighter and began watering him down for the last round. Futch then made his brave decision, Ali was told what had happened by Dundee, and then The Greatest stood up, raised one arm briefly and then collapsed to the mat. Did the 33-year-old really have enough left in the tank to have fought for another three minutes? Frazier, to this day, doesn't think so.

And though Ali was no quitter (a huge understatement) he was also a human being, subject to the laws of physical endurance. There is a limit to just how far any athlete can push himself when exhausted, and Ali had hit the wall. It's not so much a matter of whether or not he would have chosen to quit; he simply had no choice - he was utterly depleted and, as he himself put it in another of his famous quotes, was "as close to death as he'd ever known."

I believe, and of course I have no way of proving it, that had Frazier, as all but blind as he was, been allowed out for the 15th-round, Ali would not have been there to meet him at ring centre. Ali, as close to being out of it as can be imagined, would have been betrayed by his body as he tried with all his remaining strength to force himself to stand and then resume fighting. He may have made it to his feet briefly, but Ali would have soon collapsed upon seeing Frazier's snarling face in front of him; his blinded but less shattered adversary literally willing to fight him to the death.

Ali's doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, has always said that if round 15 had been permitted to begin we would have seen a fatality. Maybe he's right, and once again we can thank Eddie Futch for doing what he did. I don't think there would have been another punch thrown had the 15th began, though, because I don't think Ali would have made it more than a few steps before oozing to the canvas. Joe Frazier, blinded but unbowed, had literally knocked the fight right out of Ali. How boxing history would have been changed with the result: Frazier WTKO 15 Ali! But of course, we will never know, will we?

Article posted on 15.09.2009



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