Winner 2009

Thrilla in Manila

Darlow Smithson Production, HBO Sports, HBO Documentary Films

Few would disagree that boxing is a brutal sport. Among those who follow the game, few would deny the key roles played by the two central figures in this documentary, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. In the history of boxing, their three bouts—some would call them battles – are among the most storied. Their third match that took place in 1975 in Manila, Philippines, is cited as “epochal.” Many of the images seen here are familiar: boxers in training camp, boxers battle in the ring, referees break fighters apart, blows land, sweat and blood fly in the air, exhausted men slump in dressing rooms. Much of the commentary is equally familiar: trainers defend their decisions, promoters criticize one another, sportswriters offer poetic description. But the file footage surrounding Ali and Frazier at the time of the Manila bout dredges up something perhaps forgotten, perhaps ignored, perhaps seen only in fleeting bits at the time. Put together here, it becomes a nasty exchange. Ali’s insistent mockery of Frazier, his repeated inference that Frazier is no more than a battling ape, degrades the speaker rather than the target. Interviews with Frazier present a deeply embittered man who relishes the possibility that his brutal blows in the fight may have contributed to Ali’s current disabilities. Thrilla in Manila exposes a bleak side to boxing that goes far beyond any cliched critique of physical violence and for that receives a Peabody Award.


Executive Producer: John Smithson, Elinor Day, Andrew Mackenzie. Producer: John Dower. Associate Producer: Jessica Ludgrove. Editor: Andrew Morreale. Director of Photography: Stephen Standen. Original Score: Ben Bartlett.