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

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

4.2 7
by Mark Kram

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

New York Daily News
“[A] frequently spectacular meditation on Ali and Frazier.”
The Washington Post
“Colorful, fascinating, brilliant.”
London Sunday Times
“Ghosts of Manila will surely become the definitive work on the definitive boxer of our times.”
New York Post
“Kram’s book has the punch of historical truth written in poetic combinations by a reporter who was there.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ghosts of Manila

Chapter One

Only his face remained as I remembered it. Eight years had elapsed since I had seen him spiral through the final, perilous years of his career, and even at age forty-two it still held at bay any admission of destruction. There was no zippered flesh, no blistered or pulpy ears, nor eye ridges that drop into sagging eaves; the nose remained agreeably flat without distended bone or hammered spread. Always the centerpiece of vanity — this face, so instantly transportable into world consciousness — it was betrayed only by his eyes, his words. Where once his eyes publicly spilled with tumbling clowns, they were now a dance hall at daybreak. Where once the words streamed in a fusillade of octaves, they were now sluggish and groping.

Three years removed from the ring at this stage of his steep physical decline, Muhammad Ali was living in L.A. in the gated community of Hancock Park, amid sculpted shrubbery and swishing fronds in high trees. It was said that among his occasional dinner guests were Clint Eastwood and Orson Welles. That would figure: Ali bad always loved a good Eastwood picture, drawn with unbridled wonder to showdowns on dusty Old West streets; Welles appealed to him less as a film colossus than as a hammy fat man with a bag of magic tricks. Just a question about Welles and the illusions he performed brought a smile to Ali, who eased himself up on his toes in an effort to levitate. "See it, it's scary, ain't it?" he asked. But he remained earthbound, and soon enough he stopped, short of breath, his left hand afflicted by a spooky tremor — the same hand that he used to whip out in fourthousandths of a second.

Ornate Middle Eastern furniture lay in deep pools of shadow, giving the house an uneasy stillness broken only by the whisper movement of his manservant Abdel and the wild squawking of Ali, Ali, Ali by a couple of scam-eyed parrots on the veranda. "Can you shut 'em up?" Ali asked Abdel, apparently weary of hearing himself addressed in such ridiculing decibels. Boxing seemed to bore him on this day, and he waved off any allusion to it with a grimace, as if he were Tom Thumb being asked about his pituitary gland. Getting back into boxing at any level would lead people to believe that he was needy for fame. Ali was beyond that at this point, said that he had become a missionary for the Muslims to the poor and irreligious. Headquarters for him these days was a Louis IV desk the size of a jet wing.

Slowly, he stood up from behind it and showed what he had been writing, barely legible copying from a Sufi tract that, in so many words, said: Forget the past, follow your true nature. What was his true nature? "To save heathens like you," he said. He smiled, then suggested a tour of the house that began on the top floor. Ali switched on a dim light, revealing a long room of memorabilia. In one dark corner crouched a tiger with yellow eyes peering out, a six-foot-long, handcarved gift from Deng Xiaoping. "Good little man," he said. "Leader of China. No bigger than my nose. He asked me when I'm gonna quit. Didn't have an answer. He said, 'Mountains can't grow any higher.' He was right."

Dusty fight posters dangled from the walls in the humid air. A stray, cracking boxing glove rested palm up on a packing crate in a thin ray of sunlight, its laces falling limply. Ali stood by a brilliant red and white robe on a hanger, stroking it gently. In a sudden gesture of respect in Las Vegas, Elvis Presley had taken the robe off his back and given it to Ali, saying, "From one king to the king." Ali kept his fingers on the robe and said, "He a kind fella. Elvis dead now. Bein' too big killed him, I think." He moved over to a pile of photographs on a crate and picked through them: Elvis, with his own troubles in his eyes; the president of Egypt, Gamal Nasser, in a white suit, a little on the hefty side, yet easily passing for an exotic young contract player at MGM; and John Wayne, against whom Ali always measured his own fame. When he came to a shot of Idi Amin, the butcher of Uganda, he pulled back in horror, then told of a bizarre incident, maybe true.

Amin believed himself adroit in the ring. Ali was the guest of honor in Uganda, and they were having dinner at a long table filled with people: Ali at one end, Amin seated at the other with a dwarf at his side. Ali remembered: "He's feedin' this dwarf soup with a spoon, stops and hollers over the table, bangin' his fist." Guests cowered, the silverware jumped. Amin boomed: "I want to fight the great Muhammad Ali!" "Over and over again," Ali continued. "I get to kiddin', say he must've had a nightmare. Then, he goes under the table, opens a case and dumps all this cash. Must've been a half million. But I wasn't goin' to count. Then, he say, 'You a champion or a coward?'" The next thing Ali saw was Amin pointing a gun at him, saying, "Now, what you say, Muhammad Ali?" The dwarf scooted, everyone else dove under the table. "Nobody there now. Just me and him. I'm mad and scared at the same time. I whup this bag of fat, and he gonna kill me for sure. Why not? He already kill everybody in the country. It just dead quiet now. Like John Wayne goin' into a saloon. I'm just lookin' at that gun, my heart poundin', then suddenly he drop the cannon right in the soup in front of him, and the soup splashes all over his uniform...

Ghosts of Manila. Copyright (c) by Mark Kram . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet 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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Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After Thomas Hauser's book about Ali, I felt there was little more to be told. However I thought that the fact that this book was written from a different angle may have resulted in an interesting novel. The main difference to me was that Kram's book was largely based upon his own recollections and was therefore subjective and opinionated. He was quite damning of Ali and I found myself questioning his credibility on a number of occassions. Hauser's book remains the piece de resistance and is so well researched that in my opinion nothing surpasses it. The Kram book depicts Ali almost as a fraud and implies that his decision not to go to Vietnam was more through cowardice than any political stand. I find it hard to believe that he treated Dundee with disdain and called all the shots in the gym. Frazier is treated more kindly but at times depicted as a hot head with thugish tendancies. The positives are the book reveals a lot about the infleunce of Islam on Ali and his relationships with Robertson and Moore are touched on from a fresh viewpoint. I found the book interesting but average. If you want a read about Ali that is not too intense then I suggest this book. If you want a comprehensive overview of his career then I recommend Thomas Hauser's book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly compelling and brutally honest about the myth of Ali as a great man of conscience as well as a deserved appreciation of Joe Frazier.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book puts the reader into the era of the fight. It's a very detailed account of Ali, but not so much Frazier. The book does delve very deeply into the history of other boxers of the era too. I came away having a greater appreciation of Joe Frazier.
gman60 More than 1 year ago
In depth account of how brutal this fight was and the long term affects it had on both fighters
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Although Ghosts of Manilla is ostensibly focused on the 1975 'Thrilla in Manila' in which Muhammad Ali outlasted Joe Frazier in a brutal slugfest, the book really digs into who these men were before boxing, how boxing affected them, and how we should look upon them. Those looking for lots of boxing excitement will probably be disappointed. The fight descriptions are the least well done parts of the book. Those who are looking into what heavyweight boxing is really like will get more than they bargained for. The personal record on Muhammad Ali is dramatically revised downward, and you will again be reminded that boxing is a brutal sport. After the fight, 'one left with the ruin of a life, the other battered to his soul.' When offered a chance to watch the fight on videotape, Muhammad Ali declined. 'I don't wanna look at hell again.' The book's stylistic weakness is that the author is very opinionated, and often borders on sarcasm in conveying his views. Mr. Kram has been a boxing reporter for many years, and has had close access to most of the people he writes about in the book. As a result, he can portray his own discussions and observations from a first-hand perspective. He seems to have decided to 'tell it like it is' on events that many reporters probably observe but do not comment about in public. On the other hand, he does this telling as tastefully as possible while not pulling his punches. The book is much more about Mr. Ali than about Mr. Frazier. The key themes that are new about Mr. Ali are that he was controlled by the Black Muslims through fear of being killed, had an uncontrolled sexual appetite, did severe damage to the personalities of the black boxers he verbally humiliated, treated one of his daughters poorly, and was an unprincipled self-promoter. The book also covers familiar territory about whether or not he was a hero for resisting the draft, a good role model for young people, and the effect that boxing had on his developing Parkinson's Disease. I learned more about Mr. Frazier than I had known before. The man was an enigma to me at the time of the fight. Now, I think I understand him better. I was sorry to see how bitter he has become, due to his treatment by Mr. Ali and the public. To me, Mr. Ali's appeal lay mostly in his unorthodox fighting style and in his willingness to try new things. Although both attributes are mentioned in the book, I think they were overly downplayed. I never expect boxers to be role models for children. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book was the part that focused on what it meant to people how the heavyweight champion comported himself. That certainly says a lot about our society. After you finish this book, I suggest that you think about how you would have played the cards that were dealt to Mr. Ali and Mr. Frazier. What would you have done differently? What would you have liked to have done differently? Satisfy yourself by meeting your own high standards! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution
Guest More than 1 year ago
An amazing piece of social/sports writing! Kram lands on Ali's butt especially often and stings his mythos as a Civil Rights hero/humanitarian. It is rare that a sport as old as boxing gets redefined, but Kram has done it. If you are interested in the 70s, race, or either of the contendahs here, go for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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