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Rewind: The story of one of the most famous fights of all time - the Thrilla in Manila

AP Photo/Mitsunori Chigita

Four decades after Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's third fight, the "Thrilla in Manila" is still one of the most famous fights around the world.

Ali described the world heavyweight title fight in the Philippines, which happened 40 years ago today on October 1, 1975, "as the closest thing to dying" after 14 rounds of brutal action.

Frazier, 31, had broken Ali's unbeaten record in their first fight four years earlier when he floored him in the 15th and final round before winning unanimously on points. In January 1974, Ali got revenge over 12 rounds, and their third scrap would settle their trilogy, the most famous in boxing.

The two Americans' rivalry was one of the most bitter in sporting history, with the pair swapping hurtful words as well as hurtful punches over three fights.

"It will be a killer, and a chiller, and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila," Ali said ahead of their third meeting.

Frazier's hatred of Ali was for real after Ali had called him an "Uncle Tom" and a "gorilla."

"If we were twins in the belly of our mama, I would reach over and strangle him," Frazier said.

Ali, 33, was making a fourth defence of the WBA and WBC world heavyweight titles after winning them from George Foreman in 1974. Since Frazier had been demolished in two rounds by Foreman in 1973, Ali went into the "Thrilla in Manila" as the favourite.

But Smokin' Joe was unyielding with an intense focus in his quest to beat Ali in Manila.

Frazier dominated the middle rounds, before Ali's combinations slowed him down from the 10th. With both men nearing exhaustion, Ali let fly with a volley of punches in the 14th round. Frazier could hardly see out of swollen eyes, and it was too much for his experienced trainer, Eddie Futch, who told his man in the corner at the end of the round: "Sit down, son. It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today."

Ali, known to many as "The Greatest," said of his beaten opponent: "Joe Frazier is the greatest fighter in the world, next to me."

Ali held the titles until 1978 and fought on until 1981, but as he said: "We went to Manila as champions, Joe and me, and we came back as old men."

Frazier died in 2011 at age 67, and Ali has battled with the effects of Parkinson's disease since the early 1980s.

Nick Parkinson is a boxing writer for, among others, ESPN and the author of 'Boxing On This Day'.