Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

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9780060195571: Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Ali stared above the gathering into infinity, his mouth angry, yes blank, then screamed: "Joe Frazier should give his face to the Wildlife Fund! He so ugly, blind men go the other way!...He not only looks bad! You can smell him in another country!" He held his nose. "Mat will the People in Manila think? We can't have a gorilla for a champ. They're gonna think, lookin' at him, that all black brothers are animals. Ignorant. Stupid. Ugly. If he's champ again, other nations will laugh at us."

Joe turned and gunned a hole in the thin wood of the wall, then flipped over his desk. "Eddie, listen up! Whatever you do, whatever happens, don't stop the fight! We got nowhere to go after this. I'm gonna eat this half-breed's heart right out of his chest!...I mean it...This is the end of him or me."

When Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier in Manila for the third, bloody act of their heroic trilogy of fights, the rivalry had spun out of control. More than a clash of personalities or fighting styles, the Ali-Frazier matchup had become a kind of madness, inflamed by the media and the politics of race. When the "Thrilla in Manila" was over, the hype no longer mattered: one man was left with a ruin of a life; the other was battered to his soul.

Mark Kram's riveting book begins with the boxers themselves -- who they are and who they were. Interweaving present and past, and told in a voice as powerful as a heavyweight punch, Kram explodes the hagiography surrounding both fighters-particularly Ali. While giving Ali his due as arguably the best fighter of all time, Kram paints a much darker and nuanced version of the legend than anyone has ever dared. Ghosts of Manila is a masterpiece of literary journalism that is sure to take its place alongside A. J. Liebling's The Sweet Science.

Ghosts of Manila is a psychologically riveting study of two heroes, many myths, and the reality behind it all.

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Review:

Muhammad Ali once admitted to former Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram that he and Joe Frazier went to Manila for the third of their three epic fights "as champions and we came back as old men." Boxing is a particularly unforgiving sport for old men, especially those--as Kram tells us in Ghosts of Manila, his thoroughly riveting account of one of the Sweet Science's greatest rivalries--"with too much pride, heart, and unexamined confidence for their own well-being." Which defines Ali and Frazier's essential characters in a nutshell.

Kram begins his saga in the present, looking at the different kinds of isolation that currently surround each man's life, then dances back and forth through time to spar with just who these warriors have been and how they came to be the icons, for better or worse, they became. Ghosts of Manila is more than a twin biography, though; it is an often haunting meditation on how much we project onto our athletes, and how destructive the projections can be. As much as any punishment sustained in three of the most brutal title fights in heavyweight history, the baggage--personal and societal--that Ali and Frazier carried into and out of the ring changed them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Did Ali earn all the love? Did Frazier deserve all the scorn? To answer the questions, Kram bravely goes toe to toe with Ali worship and Ali's myth. His daring rewards us with knockout profiles of two legends more complex and real than mere iconography might allow. --Jeff Silverman

About the Author:

Mark Kram covered boxing for Sports Illustrated for eleven years and wrote more about Muhammad Ali than any other writer for the magazine. His articles on boxing have been widely anthologized, including The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, edited by David Halberstam, and The Fights, a collection of essays edited by Richard Ford.

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