When Muhammad Ali was 26 he was found guilty of draft evasion.
He said “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”
He was stripped of his world title.
The next four years should have been the peak of his career, but he was also stripped of his boxing licence.
When he was 30, the conviction was overturned and he was allowed to box again.
But there was now a new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
The undefeated Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
They fought in what was billed as ‘The Fight Of the Century’.
Ali had 31 wins and no defeats.
Frazier had 26 wins and no defeats.
But Frazier was 4 years younger, only 26.
Ali had been out of training for the three years of his ban.
In a fifteen round fight, Frazier beat Ali and broke his jaw, to retain his title.
Joe Frazier then fought all challengers for the next two years.
But eventually he lost his title to George Foreman.
Then he and Ali fought again and, over 12 rounds this time, Ali won.
Later that same year, Ali fought George Foreman.
Ali knocked Foreman out and so, incredibly, regained the World Heavyweight title for an unheard of third time.
Now it was time for the fight everyone wanted to see: Ali v Frazier III.
One victory each, the world wanted a decider.
This was the fight for Ali to retain the World Heavyweight Title.
Or for Frazier to take it back again.
It was to take place in Manila, and Ali mocked Frazier in rhyme.
“It will be a killa,
and a chilla,
and a thrilla,
when I meet that gorilla,
And so, thanks to Ali, the fight went down in history as “The thriller in Manila”.
It took place over fifteen rounds in 100-degree heat.
Two of the biggest, toughest, most highly trained men on the planet knocking the daylights out of each other for nearly an hour.
Frazier endlessly pounding Ali’s body with crushing blows.
Ali continually landing huge punches on Frazier’s head and face.
As the match went on it became all each man could do to lift his arms to throw a punch.
They staggered round the ring.
Bruised, bloody, beyond exhausted, the most pain they’d ever felt.
Ali would afterwards say it was as near death as it was possible to come without actually dying.
Nothing was keeping them up except sheer will.
Eventually they staggered to round fourteen.
They punched, and clubbed, and pummelled their way to the bell.
The end of round fourteen, one more round to go.
The judges, the trainers, the crowd, couldn’t bear to watch it.
This wasn’t boxing, this was primitive, this was just cruel.
Each man dragged himself back to his corner.
Frazier’s face was covered in blood, he couldn’t even see.
His trainer said “That’s it, no more.”
And he threw in the towel.
The fight was over and Ali was still World Heavyweight Champion.
When it registered Ali was first shocked, then euphoric.
Because there was something no one knew until much later.
Immediately before Frazier’s trainer had admitted defeat, Ali had spoken to his trainer.
He said “Cut the gloves off. I can’t go on.”
Ali had admitted defeat to his corner.
But his corner had nothing to cut the gloves off with.
While they looked for something, Frazier’s corner admitted defeat.
Ali couldn’t believe it.
He knew the fight was over, he knew he was finished.
But the other side quit just before he could quit.
And that thin sliver of time and chance made the difference.
There’s an old Norwegian saying, “A hero is someone who holds on one second longer.”