When Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier in Manila for their third fight, their rivalry had spun out of control. The Ali-Frazier matchup had become a madness, inflamed by the media and the politics of race. When the "Thrilla in Manila" was over, one man was left with a ruin of a life; the other was battered to his soul.
Mark Kram covered that fight for Sports Illustrated in an award-winning article. Now his riveting book reappraises the boxers -- who they are and who they were. And in a voice as powerful as a heavyweight punch, Kram explodes the myths surrounding each fighter, particularly Ali. A controversial, no-holds-barred account, Ghosts of Manila ranks with the finest boxing books ever written.
Kram, who covered boxing for Sports Illustrated for more than a decade, tells the story of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali's epic 1975 Manila fight, and the bitter and complex rivalry between the two men that preceded it. He begins his story when the men, both black Southerners, are isolated and in retirement. Ali calls Manila "the greatest fight" of his life, while Frazier remains obsessively consumed by his hatred of Ali. Kram is intent on undoing the media "romance history" of Ali as civil rights hero; "hagiographers," he writes, "never tire of trying to persuade us that he ranked second only to Martin Luther King, but... Ali was not a social force." Frazier and Ali began as friends, but professional competition and divergent views on race turned theirs into a rivalry that had a lasting effect on professional sport and perhaps changed the meaning of race, especially for African-Americans, in postwar America. Kram explores the fighters' serial wives and mixed-up families, as well as their shifting, hunting packs of managers and assistants Ali's Black Muslim handlers in particular ("They were into profit and running things like Papa Doc was running Haiti"). Describing the powerful title event, Kram's prose is heavy with metaphors, not all of them helpful ("Ali's legs searched for the floor like one of Baudelaire's lost balloons"), and some of the narrative reads like his earlier accounts of the fights pasted together. Still, overall this is a daring, intelligent and well-observed piece of sportswriting. (May) Forecast: Boxing is reclaiming its popularity. Author appearances in New York and Washington, D.C., along with a 50-city radio campaign, should help this fine book attract attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved