October 1, 2015 7:30 AM EDT It was 40 years ago—on Oct. 1, 1975—that Muhammad Ali took on Joe Frazier in a boxing match that would go down as one of the sport’s greatest.
As should surprise nobody familiar with his talent for wordplay, the so-called Thrilla in Manila was named by Ali himself, and functioned as giant publicity excursion for the veteran slugger.
“Ostensibly, Ali had come to defend his title against Frazier in an extravaganza he touts as the ‘Thrilla in Manila,'” TIME
noted ahead of the fight. “In fact, the expedition resembles nothing so much as a royal tour. Ali has become one of the most readily recognized individuals in the world.”
But Ali’s celebrity didn’t mean the “Thrilla” would prove to be an easy match for the defending champ, as the fight report made clear:
The bell that ended the 14th round was the last one to ring. Muhammad Ali lay on the canvas in exhaustion. Joe Frazier stood in a fog in his corner. The fight was over, stopped by Frazier’s manager, Eddie Futch, because Smokin’ Joe could no longer see the punches pounding into his nearly closed eyes. Ali had successfully defended his world heavyweight boxing title against Frazier, but the long slugging battle had been as tough as any he had known.
While his bruises were still achingly fresh, the champ threatened once more to retire from the ring; a groggy Frazier, clutching his pride, refused to quit. Whether either man will live up to those first postfight statements remains to be seen, but there was no doubt that the fight itself was the best each boxer had fought since that epic brawl in 1971 when then Champion Frazier won a 15-round decision against Ali, inflicting a rare knockdown in the process.
Read more about the fight from 1975, here in the TIME Vault: Battle for Supremacy in Manila
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, left, applauds as challenger Joe Frazier, right, makes some remarks about world champion Muhammad Ali, second from left, during their call on Marcos at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, on Sept. 18, 1975. Between the two fighters is Marco's wife Imelda. Jess Tan—AP Photo This chart compares the stats of boxers Joe Frazier, left, and Muhammad Ali. The heavyweights are due to meet in Manila, Sept. 30, 1975. AP Photo Oct. 1, 1975, Manila, —Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali punches Joe Frazier during their title bout in Manila in 1975. Bettman—Corbis Muhammad Ali connects with the top of Joe Frazier's head in the 13th round of their bout for the heavyweight title at Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Oct. 1, 1975. Kenchi Mori—AP Photo Challenger Joe Frazier, showing puffed eyes, talks to members of the press after suffering a TKO in the 14th round of his 15-round heavyweight championship match against champion Muhammad Ali. Manila, Oct. 1, 1975. Bettman—Corbis President Ferdinand Marcos, left, of the Philippines, presents the President's Trophy to heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, second from right, after Ali defeated Joe Frazier in their "Thrilla in Manila" fight at the Coliseum in Manila, Oct. 1, 1975. Posing from left are, President Marcos; promoter Don King; Ali's brother, Rahman; Ali, and his father Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., right. AP Photo Heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali (C) meets with the press after defeating challenger Smokin' Joe Frazier in the 14th round by TKO. Next to Ali is boxing promoter Don King (R), and Ali's brother Rahaman. Manila, Oct. 1, 1975. Bettman—Corbis More Must-Reads From TIME Meet the 2024 Women of the Year Greta Gerwig's Next Big Swing East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment In the Belly of MrBeast The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap How Long Should You Isolate With COVID-19? The Best Romantic Comedies to Watch on Netflix Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time