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Ali in Manila

WHEN Muhammad Ali knocked the gum shield out of Joe Frazier’s mouth in the middle of “Thrilla in Manila”, I had no idea what that thing was that had landed on my left forearm. It looked like a mouth without teeth, and only when I saw drops of blood on its inside did it dawn on me that someone had just been hurt pretty bad.

I was sitting on the second or third row of the press section, with my eyes closed most of the time in the company of sportswriters, all of them guys. That little freak show wasn’t a big deal to them, they were busy watching the two big black men inside the ring, but to me all it meant was that Muhammad Ali could’ve killed his opponent. Right before my eyes. Especially if I did not return that thing to its owner, who didn’t appear like he had been stung by a bee – the fight continued without a fuss – and then some people seated nearby chided me, “You shouldn’t have returned it, it’s a piece of boxing history.” Later on, Louie Tabuena, then GM of the Manila international airport who was Ferdinand Marcos’ pointman for Thrilla, said I should’ve kept the souvenir and sold it for a lot of money years later.

It’s 41 years later. A certain boxer by the name of Manny Pacquiao wasn’t born yet when Thrilla was held at The Dome in Cubao, Quezon City, on Oct. 1, 1975, three years after FM declared Martial Law and Thrilla would be his way of showing the world that Manila, with or without Martial Law, was the place to be, an exciting city safe for tourists and natives alike, its arms open wide to welcome and embrace VIPs like America’s biggest champions of the ring.

True enough, Muhammad Ali loved Manila. Oh, how he loved the women! And how hospitable they were, making sure as they did that there would be no need for “The Greatest” boxer in the world to conserve his energies for the WBC/WBA heavyweight championship fight. Ali was having a grand time, and so was Manila-by-night.

Forty-one years ago if FM had the “political will,” the might and the gumption to mount an extravaganza like Thrilla in Manila, today Manileños have to wonder how come we could not afford to put up a Pacquiao spectacular in MOA or Bulacan before he retired. (JULLIE Y. DAZA)