Muhammad Ali once admitted to former Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram that he and Joe Frazier went to Manila for the third of their three epic fights “”as champions and we came back as old men.”” Boxing is a particularly unforgiving sport for old men, especially those–as Kram tells us in Ghosts of Manila, his thoroughly riveting account of one of the Sweet Sciences greatest rivalries–“”with too much pride, heart, and unexamined confidence for their own well-being.”” Which defines Ali and Fraziers essential characters in a nutshell.
Kram begins his saga in the present, looking at the different kinds of isolation that currently surround each mans life, then dances back and forth through time to spar with just who these warriors have been and how they came to be the icons, for better or worse, they became. Ghosts of Manila is more than a twin biography, though; it is an often haunting meditation on how much we project onto our athletes, and how destructive the projections can be. As much as any punishment sustained in three of the most brutal title fights in heavyweight history, the baggage–personal and societal–that Ali and Frazier carried into and out of the ring changed them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Did Ali earn all the love? Did Frazier deserve all the scorn? To answer the questions, Kram bravely goes toe to toe with Ali worship and Alis myth. His daring rewards us with knockout profiles of two legends more complex and real than mere iconography might allow. –Jeff Silverman
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.