Philippines laying groundwork to get Tyson-Lewis fight for second 'Thrilla in Manila'

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Philippines, battling an image problem of its own, is making a pitch for the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight, billing it as a repeat of the ``Thrilla in Manila'' between Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier nearly three decades ago.

Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said Saturday that the Philippines was ``serious'' about landing the match to promote the country, which has been saddled with a bad reputation over law-and-order problems, including kidnappings by the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group in the south.

``We would like to focus on the other side of the Philippines,'' Gordon said. ``It would also highlight the fact that the rest of the Philippines is peaceful.''

Tyson and Lewis were scheduled to fight for the heavyweight title in April in Las Vegas, but Nevada boxing officials voted last month to deny Tyson a license to fight in the state following a melee with Lewis at a news conference in New York.

Gordon said he has asked the Philippines' tourism coordinator in New York, Maricris Tabora, to talk with the fight managers.

``She is laying the groundwork for that,'' he said.

He also said he has received backing from the country's top businessmen, media executives, promotions agents and hotel owners.

``The first `Thrilla in Manila' was done rather well. It was one of the best fights the world ever saw,'' Gordon said.

The October 1, 1975, Ali-Frazier fight, the third between the two boxing greats, has been described as an epic match and one of the most savage bouts in history. Ali won when Frazier could not answer the bell for the 15th round.

``Our biggest argument is we've done it before and it will be a fitting tribute to boxing. This is one of the world's boxing capitals. We've always had good fights here,'' Gordon said. He also cited the Philippines' successful hosting of Miss Universe pageants and the 1996 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Gordon said Tyson and Lewis could be provided separate training sites and the fight could be held at the newly renovated Araneta Coliseum, where Ali defeated Frazier. He also said the time difference between the Philippines and the United States would be an advantage because a daytime fight could be watched by Americans in the evening.

``We will have a fiesta for all the people coming here,'' he said. ``Once they come in here, we will throw a party for everyone _ before, during and after.''

He was also unconcerned about any violent outburst by Tyson while here.

``That's part of the fun,'' Gordon said, clearly relishing the promoter's role. ``I wont bite anybody's ear but I would bend anybody's ear to try to get this fight here.''