40 year anniversary of The Rumble in the Jungle
By Gav Duthie: It seems unbelievable that it is 40 years tomorrow since Muhammad Ali knocked out the seemingly invincible George Foreman in Zaire, 1974. At 32 years old Ali was seen as a washed up ex-champion but managed to deliver the most stunning victory the sport has ever witnessed. Today Foreman might be seen as guy who invented ‘The George Foreman Grill’ but back then he was the most feared boxer on the planet.
Going into the Ali fight George was 40-0 (37), he was the world heavyweight champion and had knocked out his last 24 opponents. These stats alone however were not what made George such an overwhelming favourite. Ali was 44-2 (31) when he challenged the champion. His two losses had come against Joe Frazier and Ken Norton by decision. Conversely ‘Big’ George had not only beaten both Frazier and Norton he had destroyed them. He dropped Frazier 5 times on route to a second round knockout and he defended his title against Norton with the same result. He was simply invincible. This made Ali a 3/1 underdog with the bookies.
Pre-fight Ali was asked the question everyone was thinking. How can you beat someone who knocked out Ken Norton in 2 rounds when you’ve fought 24 rounds with him. The Greatest responded candidly admitting that George was bigger and stronger than him but scientifically he wasn’t as good a boxer, he would win with “Speed, whoop him on points”. Ali had a game plan but few believed he could truly execute it. Many even feared for his safety including his own corner.
In my opinion the three most feared fighters of all time are George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston. Ali has wins over two of them. At just 22 he beat Sonny Liston and at 32 George Foreman. The fear that their opponents had meant they were often beaten before they entered the ring. At age 22 Ali was Cassius Clay, ‘The Louisville Lip’. Few believed a heavyweight boxer could fight with the style of Sugar Ray Robinson and get away with it and the media couldn’t wait for Liston to destroy him. Ali’s pre-fight tactics were to get right in Liston’s face, he goaded him, teased him, shouted at him, created poems about him. Previous Liston victims like Floyd Patterson believed in the murderous, mafia backed Liston but Ali walked right through all that. He admitted before and after his antics he was shaking like a leaf, he was scared of Liston but dared not show it. The tactics employed by Ali was the beginning for what we see by most modern day boxers in psychology today.
Ten years later it had to be different. Ali had been twice defeated and was older. Running around like he did v Liston wouldn’t work. Because the Foreman fight was in Zaire the tactics were to make George as uncomfortable as possible. By this time Ali had adopted Africa as his home country and Foreman was met with taunts of “Ali Boumaye” (Ali Kill him) wherever he went. The fight was delayed for 5 weeks when ‘Big George’ suffered a cut in training so as you would expect George wanted to make his way back to America but it was made impossible for him to leave. His passport was taken away by the Zaire military.
By the time the fight came around it was clear George had one thing in his mind to knock Ali out. In the first round Ali looked like his old self, he took the centre of the ring, was light on his feet landing quick jabs and occasionally straight rights as George struggled to find an opening.
The fight tactics suddenly changed in the second round. Ali was no longer taking the centre of the ring but started backing up and letting George unload furious attacks especially to the body. The older man was less busy but fought in 30 second bursts rolling back the years with lightning fast combinations. Conspiracy theorists believed the ropes were made loose for Ali to lean back avoiding head shots but the late Bundini Brown and Angelo Dundee were adamant that the rope-a-dope was never part of their game plan. In reality Ali knew he was too old to fight like that for 12 rounds anymore. He backed himself to take Foreman’s shots and let him punch himself out. Ali had a very good chin and in the few times he was knocked down balance was often the reason. More impressive was his ability to take body punches where Foreman unloaded ferocious attacks. In the 3rd, 5th and 7th rounds Ali was letting George pound on him for most of the round before stealing it with a flurry at the end.
George has since admitted that every time a round finished he was convinced he would knock Ali out in the next round. He had been so used to putting opponents away he believed he would find the power. He was tiring badly. When George came in looking to land another big shot Ali landed a solid right hand then span off the ropes. Foreman came marauding forward looking to land anything as Ali lands a sweet 1-2 left-right combination. As George slowly falls Ali has another right hand cocked but doesn’t throw it as he sees him go down. Foreman fails to beat the count and Ali is once again heavyweight champion of the world.
Ali Quotes Post Fight
“I told you I’m the real champion, I told you, never again defeat me, never again make me the underdog until i’m about 50 years old then you might get me”.
(Ali was visibly angry at being dismissed as an easy opponent for Foreman)
“It’s fitting to go out of boxing the way I came in, beating a big ugly monster that nobody else can beat”.
(Ali referring to beating Sonny Liston and then George Foreman 10 years later).
Ali boxed on for another 6 years and arguably had one more really great night beating Joe Frazier (TKO 14) in ‘The thriller in Manilla’. He also, probably luckily, completed a trilogy with a win over Ken Norton as well as wins over Earnie Shavers and Jimmy Young. He became the first 3 time heavyweight world champion when he beat Leon Spinks in a rematch after losing the title to him. Having already been diagnosed with early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease he continued to fight well past his best and lost to Trevor Berbick and before that suffered his only stoppage defeat to Larry Holmes.
For George the invincible tag was gone. He was soon involved in one of the greatest scraps of all time when he came back from 2 knockdowns to knockout Ron Lyle. After a second career defeat to the talented Jimmy Young Foreman retired to become a full-time evangelist. This retirement came in 1977 and he returned to the sport in 1997 in what is considered probably th greatest comeback of all time. Foreman went on to become world heavyweight champion again when he knocked out Michael Moorer. He eventually retired with an amazing 68 knockouts from 75 wins when he lost to Shannon Briggs.
Ali’s perfect blend of speed, skill, humour, compassion, determination and intelligence made him transcend boxing and is widely considered the greatest sportsman of all time. His cornerman Bundini Brown said boxing was a stop, look and listen sign for Ali and his real work would begin after but the severity of his Parkinson’s disease robbed him of a lot of his plans. Most boxing historians have him in their top 5 boxers of all time and most often at number 3 behind Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong.
George made a fortune by endorsing the lean mean grilling machine known as ‘The George Foreman Grill’. He is considered one of the top 5 punchers of all time and this power allowed him to succeed in two completely different era’s as a world champion.
In the last few years we have lost a lot of top guys from boxing’s greatest ever era like Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Ellis and Ken Norton. Although this time is now gone it should never be forgotten.