Sport is a universal passion that unifies all people, cultures and faiths and speaks all languages. Events such as the World Cup Final and the Cricket World Cup have a global reach.
Next week’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr is one of those events. What the promoters are already styling as the “Fight of the Century” will be broadcast live in cinemas across the UAE and watched by thousands more on pay television.
It is fair to assume, though, there will be nothing like this scene, photographed in January 1974. What ever the star power of Pacquiao and Mayweather, it is nothing compared to the giants of the ring – Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier.
This audience, gathered around a flickering television set outside an Abu Dhabi restaurant, is watching the second of three classic fights between the two heavyweights. Ali and Frazier had already met in 1971, when Ali, who had been stripped of his titles for refusing to fight in Vietnam, lost on points in what was inevitably called the “Fight of the Century”.
In this fight, which took place at New York’s Madison Square Gardens, Ali defeated Frazier by a unanimous decision, setting the scene for a decisive third bout the next year. This was the “Thrilla in Manila”, one of the greatest fights in history, with both battering each other almost to oblivion, but with Ali emerging as victor when Frazier’s trainer decided to stop the fight after the 14th round and signalled for the referee to end it.
Next Saturday’s welterweight fight takes place in Las Vegas, and, in the Filipino-born Pacquiao, has its Thrilla from Manila.
* James Langton