Cover image for 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
Kram, Mark.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2001]

Physical Description:
232 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1131 .K73 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GV1131 .K73 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GV1131 .K73 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

According to Muhammad Ali, two champions (Ali himself and his rival Joe Frazier) went into the ring in the 1975 "Thrilla in Manila," but two old men came out. Kram, who covered boxing for 11 years with Sports Illustrated, has written a fascinating blend of history and biography, portraying Ali and Frazier and their relationship to one another over the years: "what each man was and is now." At one time, the two were friends, but their fierce competition and differing views on race destroyed their relationship. In the course of the book, Kram offers a revisionist and not entirely positive view of Ali, whose myth has grown proportionally with public sympathy over his current physical condition. This may not sit well with the Ali devotees, but Kram's argument is compelling. The first third of the book is a look at the fighters' lives in retirement. Frazier is bitter, unfairly vilified by the public and surrounded by family and friends who view him less as a man than an ATM machine. A second section chronicles the ascension of the young fighters. The manipulation of Ali by the Muslims is particularly disturbing, even with 25 years of hindsight. Finally, the book carefully reconsiders the three Ali-Frazier fights, culminating in the aforementioned Thrilla. This is an important, superbly written study of two men who, in Kram's opinion, have been unfairly judged by history. Ali was a great fighter but never a great man. Frazier was also a great fighter and never a bad man. Boxing fans may be forced to alter long-held opinions.--Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

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

Library Journal Review

Kram, a former Sports Illustrated writer whose account of the 1975 Ali-Frazier "Thrilla in Manila" is acknowledged as the finest deadline boxing piece ever turned in, has watched Muhammad Ali's painful deterioration and sanctification by the press ever since. The book is built around the celebrated Ali-Frazier rivalry and its costs to both men. Kram's accounts of their three great battles are terrific literary set pieces that call on all his old skills. In between, though, Ali fans must wade through one ugly anecdote after another specifically selected to counter Ali "hagiography" and David Remnick's 1999 portrait of him as a kind of Civil Rights figure. Kram's Ali a racial ideologue, Muslim dupe, and chronic philanderer is not a guy you'd have light the Olympic Torch, and however true the book's simple thesis decent country boy Frazier scarred by the manipulative, cruel, name-calling Champ it was already advanced in Frazier's autobiography. Kram's book is alternately elegiac about the contests themselves and sourly dismissive of the surrounding goofy pageant of 1970s America. When Kram is not trading in dark gossip but reporting first-hand on their youthful ring clashes or his conflicted visits with the fighters since, his joy in writing resurfaces and his accumulated baggage is safely stowed away. For Frazier fans and all sports collections. Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.