Story highlights

"Thrilla in Manila" bout "brutal," sportscaster Ronnie Nathanielsz remembers

1975 fight pitted Muhammad Ali against friend-turned-rival Joe Frazier

CNN  — 

The Ali Mall still stands on a corner in Quezon City, Metro Manila, 40 years after it opened next door to the Araneta Coliseum.

It’s a monument to one of sport’s greatest athletes, and the two weeks in 1975 when “The Greatest” won over an entire country with victory over his long-time foe Joe Frazier in what is regarded by many as the best fight of all time – the so-called “Thrilla in Manila.”

The fight was a seminal moment for the Philippines, a moment of true international attention and recognition for a country which was convulsing under three years of martial law and a crackdown by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

By capitalizing on the great Ali-Frazier rivalry, Marcos managed in one swoop to both unite the country and – at least for the duration of the fight – rehabilitate his image on the world stage.

Veteran sportscaster and boxing commentator Ronnie Nathanielsz was Ali’s liaison officer during his time in the Philippines and was at the fight, a steamy October morning bout at the Araneta Coliseum that ended with Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch throwing in the towel just before the 15th round.

“It was a big deal for the Philippines, especially for Marcos, who had said ‘we’re doing this fight because we want to show the whole world there is law and order, the people are happy,’” Nathanielsz told CNN.

Friends turned rivals