Wednesday 18 October 2017

How RTE ruined 'Thrilla in Manila'

saturday view

Sean Diffley

I WITNESSED the 'Thrilla in Manila' on October 1, 1975, courtesy of RTE television in the comforts of the famed Aberdeen Arms, just round the corner from the historic Lahinch Links, where we had been reporting on an array of birdies and bogeys on a calm, serene and sunny autumn day.

It was any thing but calm in Manila a few hours later. The contest between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali was the most savage, ferocious, vicious, ruthless contest, and not just in sport, but in any walk of life.

I never had the privilege of observing the gladiators in action in the Coliseum in Rome -- Anno Domini and all that, you understand -- but I doubt if even all that came anywhere near rivalling that pulverising contest in the Philippines.

But, freakishly, the fisticuffs, those fierce exchanges, have, with the passage of time, been more or less forgotten in detail.

But as vivid as yesterday's happenings in chez Diffley, I recall the action between the rounds when the pair retired to their corners for the all-important rests.

But we did not have recourse to what the trainers had to say to Joe and Muhammad. And why? Because RTE used the minute's intervals between rounds to assail us with commercial breaks. After every round.

That was irritating enough, but when the commercial break after the 14th round returned us to the TV action, we gathered that the fight was over with one round still to go. But what occurred in that interval between the 14 and 15 rounds?

It was a while before we discovered that Frazier had conceded, or at least his trainer Eddie Futch conceded.

Of course, the surfeit of commercial breaks is a constant annoyance, but there is no doubt that gaffe by RTE with the 'Thrilla in Manila' must rank at top of the pops. It's still the No 1.

That the 1970s is the greatest period in boxing is widely acknowledged.

John L Sullivan, the first to don boxing gloves, lost his title to James J Corbett, who is credited as being the first 'scientific' boxer. But neither would have been likely to last a round against the pair in Manila. Nor, indeed, would Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney or Joe Louis see the end of a contest.

The sheer viciousness of the bouts in the '70s reminds us of the campaign to outlaw boxing -- which seems to be a remnant of the past. Remember British MP Dr Edith Summerskill, liberally quoted in the media after every big boxing event?

But boxing continues to survive, even if, in recent times, the talents in the ring are far from impressive.

In the earlier times, the poverty-stricken sought to solve their difficulties through boxing.

The Irish, in the form Sullivan, Corbett, Dempsey and Tunney, worked their way to the summit, to be followed by the African-Americans. Nowadays the Ukrainians are the top men, but are hardly setting the Urals on fire.

Irish Independent

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