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The Belinda-Veronica Fiasco ?

Muhammad Ali came to Manila in mid-September 1975 to defend his world heavyweight title against arch-rival Joe Frazier.

He lost his wife Belinda instead.

Before boarding the Philippine Airlines flight to the fight site, Ali listed 50 people to compose his team. By the time his full entourage had come, the number swelled to more than that.

Heading the list of Ali’s party was a certain Veronica Porsche. Among others were his father Cassius Clay Sr. and mother Odessa Clay. Veronica, it turned out, was a beautiful black lady the champ met in Africa when he fought George Foreman and with whom he had fallen head over heels in love with.

One member of Ali’s entourage that flew in two weeks before the October 1, 1975 Christened “Thrilla In Manila” and Super Fight III swore that Ali’s relationship with his new-found interest grew “increasingly serious in the ensuing months.”  Belinda Boyd (later named Khalila when her husband  and she turned Muslim), Ali’s second  wife and mother of his four children seemed powerless to stop the affair.

While in Manila, the lovebirds were often seen together attending social functions, including a dinner in Malacañang Palace tendered in honor of the two fighters where Ali introduced Veronica to President Marcos as his wife.

That created quite a stir and led to eventual end of the champ’s marriage to Belinda.

When the  First Lady Imelda Marcos arrived, the President introduced her to Veronica, saying the girl was Ali’s wife. Everybody who was privy to the Ali-Veronica relationship knew she was Ali’s mistress.

Belinda (Khalilah) was known to have tolerated her husband’s extra-marital activities. Reports were that she even had adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude on the matter.

Not this one though. As soon as she read the news from media reports from Manila, she thought this became too open to ignore.

Embarrassed no end and humiliated in the international media, Belinda boarded a plane to Manila and went straight to the Manila Hilton, Ali’s home while in the country.

Members of Ali’s party and media men outside the room heard commotion and shouting inside. It was reported later that Belinda, all of her six-foot frame, threw everything she could lay her hands on to her beleaguered husband.

As fast as when she arrived, Belinda was seen rushing from the hotel got into her limo and flew back home. Their marriage over, Belinda emerged the winner of sort as she ended up richer by $ 2 million besides getting, too, their houses.

The incident prompted one newsman to comment: “More people were now talking about Veronica-Belinda than the Ali-Frazier Thrilla.”

The next day, Ali turned the already volatile situation to worse by calling a press conference to try to extricate himself from the hole he dug himself into. He told journalists of the “needs of a man” and the “desires of a champion.”

Ali showed no adverse effect of what happened the past 24 hours in his talk with local and foreign journalists. He appeared jolly and even exchanged jokes with newsmen.

“I live on controversy,” he said. “I’m used to pressure. That stuff you write, I laugh at it. It’s goof publicity. It will sell out the fight.”

By EDDIE G. ALINEA