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19 JUNE 2018


The Thrilla in Manila chronicles – Part Two

Ronnie Nathanielsz continues his fantastic first-hand account of “The Thrilla in Manila” with Muhammad Ali’s triumphant arrival in the Philippines.

By Ronnie Nathanielsz: A spontaneous round of applause and cheers broke out as the Philippine Airlines DC-10 touched down on the main runway of the Manila International Airport, shortly after 6 o'clock in the morning.

"That's about the greatest pilot in the world," said Angelo Dundee, long-time trainer and friend of the world heavyweight champion. "It was a beautiful flight all the way."

Ali and his entourage of 35 - including his mother, Mrs Odessa Clay, Dick Sadler - former trainer of George Foreman, Mark Cramm of Sports Illustrated and publicity and press relations man Bob Goodman - were all thrilled at the prospect of being in Manila.

Ali himself was like a young boy, peering through the window and saying, "Look at all those beautiful people out there. I have to work out today."

In-flight, the champion posed for photographs with members of the crew and they all agreed, "He is so kind and so good-looking."

After a few hours sleep on the long 10-hour flight from Honolulu to Manila, Ali woke up some two hours before touchdown and moved around the cabin shaking hands, signing autographs and exchanging banter with passengers. All the time he wore a smile. Ali's face lit up when the aircraft broke through the clouds and the lush green of the countryside came into view.

"Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful country. I gotta see more of this." Seeing the excited crowd near the tarmac, Ali said: "What great people. I've got to workout for them today."

"What a beautiful day," the ladies said in unison. Dundee, who earlier predicted that Ali "will bring the sunshine to Manila", said: "Didn't I tell you?"

The flight out of Honolulu was purposely delayed by one hour in order to make sure there was enough light for the television cameras when Ali and his entourage landed in Manila. But airline officials in Honolulu did everything possible to make the Ali camp forget the delay.

In-between drinks, a few canapes and a lot of laughs, some members of Ali's entourage even decided to sing. Dundee didn't do a bad job on "Tennessee Waltz" but he obviously didn't impress assistant trainer Walter Youngblood, who referred to Dundee's hastily put together quartet as "The Nightmares" or some such unflattering name.

But it was fun and everybody was happy. Ali, after leafing through a story done by Cramm in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated decided, to take a breather and left the lounge after posing for pictures and signing autographs.

When Ali returned to the Honolulu VIP lounge he was greeted by the reigning Miss Hawaii-Philippines. A couple of men in the group took one look at the lovely girl in her terno (a Philippine native gown) and chorused, "What a charming beauty. Are there more where she came from?"

Ali himself summed it up pretty well saying, "It's a beautiful country with beautiful people and a great leader (President Marcos)." Ali was a good judge. Didn't he say, "I am the greatest"? And didn't he keep his word?

It seemed a little unfair that Frazier arrived unexpectedly early and in poor light to a much less enthusiastic and smooth reception.

The hero's welcome for Ali prompted Dundee to quip that Frazier lost the fight right at the Manila International Airport. "That fantastic welcome seals Frazier's doom. It's really juiced up my guy."

Next: Ali’s first day in Manila.

The Thrilla in Manila chronicles - Part One //">View>>

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