George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

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1974-10-30 : George Foreman 220 lbs lost to Muhammad Ali 216½ lbs by KO at 2:58 in round 8 of 15

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The Rumble in the Jungle

"The Rumble in The Jungle" was a historic boxing match which took place on October 30, 1974 in the May 20 Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). It pitted then World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman against former champion and #1 contender Muhammad Ali, who became the second fighter ever, after Floyd Patterson, to regain the World Heavyweight Championship.

The event was Don King's first big venture as a boxing promoter. He managed to get both Ali and Foreman to agree to let him promote the fight if he could get them $5 million each. However, King did not have the money, so he began looking for an outside country to sponsor the event. Zaire's flamboyant president, Mobutu Sese Seko, asked for the fight to be held in his country, eager for the publicity such a high-profile event would bring.

The fight was shown on closed-circuit television at about 450 locations in the United States and Canada and was seen in roughly 100 countries worldwide. The fight was scheduled to start at 4:00 a.m. in Zaire to accommodate audiences in the United States.

Build up to the Fight

Ali was stripped of the World Heavyweight Championship and suspended from boxing for three and a half years following his refusal to enter the U.S. Army in 1967. He was able to regain a boxing license in 1970 and promptly fought two comeback fights, against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. The following year, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the World Heavyweight Championship in a bout dubbed the Fight of the Century, which Frazier won by a unanimous decision. Over the next three years, Ali stayed active against other contenders while he campaigned for another title shot.

Foreman had quickly risen from his gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics and into the top ranks of professional heavyweights. Although considered by many to be somewhat slow and clumsy, Foreman was greatly feared for his punching power, size, and sheer physical dominance. Still, Joe Frazier and his handlers believed that despite Foreman's ever growing list of knockout victories, he would be too slow and unrefined to stand up to Frazier's relentless attacks. This would turn out to be a grave miscalculation, as Foreman, a 3½ to 1 underdog, won the championship in grand fashion by knocking Frazier down six times in two rounds before the bout was stopped. Foreman further solidified his hold over the heavyweight division with a second-round destruction of Ken Norton, who was the only man besides Frazier (at that point in time) to defeat Ali (breaking Ali's jaw in the process).

By the time Ali and Foreman met, Ali had avenged his losses to both Norton and Frazier, but Foreman was an overwhelming favorite against a slowing and aging Ali.

Foreman and Ali spent much of the summer of 1974 training in Zaire and getting their bodies used to the weather in the tropical African country. The fight was originally set to happen on September 24, but the fight was postponed after Foreman was cut during training. It was rescheduled for October 30.

Ali was a very endearing figure to the people of Zaire and his mind games played out well, turning the Congolese people in his favor and against Foreman. A popular chant leading up to, and during the fight, was "Ali bomaye!," which means "Ali, kill him!"

The Rumble

Rope-a-dope.jpg

Insiders say that Foreman and his handlers actually prayed in his dressing room before the fight that Foreman would not kill Ali, so high was the anticipation that Ali was simply no match for Foreman.

Ali came out dancing in the first round and Foreman went right at him. Ali made good use of the right-hand lead, catching Foreman several times. When Foreman got close, Ali tied him up. Before the end of the first round, Foreman caught up to Ali and began landing a few punches of his own. Foreman had been trained well to cut off the ring, preventing escape.

At the beginning of the second round, Ali went to the ropes and covered up, letting Foreman punch at him. Ali would occasionally fire back with his own shots. The plan was to let Foreman punch himself out, a strategy Ali later dubbed the rope-a-dope.

“Get away from the ropes,” Ali’s corner yelled. Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, later said, “When he went to the ropes, I felt sick.” At the end of the second round, Dundee implored Ali to stay off the ropes. Ali waved him away and said, “I know what I’m doing.”

"I didn't really plan what happened that night," Ali said. "But when a fighter gets in the ring, he has to adjust according to the conditions he faces. Against George, the ring was slow. Dancing all night, my legs would have got tired. And George was following me too close, cutting off the ring. In the first round, I used more energy staying away from him than he used chasing me. So between rounds, I decided to do what I did in training when I got tired."

Foreman spent all his energy throwing punches (in an oven-like heat) that were mostly blocked by Ali or did not land flush. When Foreman did land flush, Ali was able to take it.

"A couple of times, he shock me bad, especially with the right hand," Ali said. "But I blocked and dodged most of what he threw, and each round his punches got slower and hurt less when they landed."

When the two fighters were locked in clinches, Ali consistently outwrestled Foreman. He leaned on Foreman to make Foreman support his weight, and he held Foreman's head down by pushing on his neck, a move which is both disorientating and can heighten the effect of punches since it causes a greater snap in the neck when a fighter is hit.

Ali also constantly taunted Foreman, telling Foreman to throw more and harder punches, and an enraged Foreman responded by doing just that.

After several rounds, Foreman began to tire. Foreman was staggered by an Ali combination at the start of the fourth round and again near the end of the fifth, after Foreman had seemed to dominate much of that round. Although he would keep throwing punches and coming forward, after the fifth round, Foreman was very tired and he looked increasingly worn out. Ali continued to taunt him by saying "Hit harder! Show me something, George" and "That don't hurt. I thought you were supposed to be bad."

Finally in the eighth round, Ali landed the final combination, a left hook that brought Foreman's head up into position so Ali could nail him with a hard right straight to the face. Foreman staggered, then twirled across half the ring before landing on his back. Foreman got up but not quickly enough. The referee counted to ten and waved the fight over.

Ten years after upsetting Sonny Liston and seven years after being stripped of the title, Ali had finally regained the World Heavyweight Championship.

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Foreman later claimed that the reason he took so long to get up was that he was looking over at his corner, waiting for their signal to get up, but they were slow to do so.

"After the fight, for a while I was bitter," Foreman said. "I had all sorts of excuses. The ring ropes were loose. The referee counted too fast. The cut hurt my training. I was drugged. I should have just said the best man won, but I'd never lost before so I didn't know how to lose."

"The Rumble in the Jungle" has since become one of the most famous fights of all time, due to Ali regaining the title in a huge upset and developing the rope-a-dope. It is shown often on the ESPN Classic network.

Cultural Influence

The events before and during the fight are depicted in the Academy Award winning documentary When We Were Kings (1996). Due to his Parkinsonism, Ali had trouble walking to the stage to be part of the group receiving the Oscar and Foreman helped him up the steps.

The documentary also showed the musical acts (James Brown, B.B. King, The Spinners, and Bill Withers, among others) who performed during a three-day musical showcase staged in advance of the championship bout.

The biographical movie Ali (2002) depicts this fight as the film's climax.

In the movie Rocky III (1982), Rocky uses a strategy similar to the rope-a-dope in his rematch with Clubber Lang.

Norman Mailer wrote a book, The Fight, describing the events and placing them within the context of his views of African American culture.

George Plimpton covered the fight for Sports Illustrated and it is featured in detail in his book Shadow Box.

The historical fiction novel, The Poisonwood Bible, mentions the fight.

Johnny Wakelin wrote a song about the fight called In Zaire.

The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, and John Forte wrote a song about the fight titled Rumble in the Jungle.

The Hours also wrote a song about the fight titled Ali In The Jungle.

The fight was ranked seventh in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Sporting Moments IN 2002.

The fight was covered in an episode of ESPN Classic's The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame..., examining reasons why people shouldn't blame Foreman for losing.

Awards

Quotes

  • "George Foreman is nothing but a big mummy. I've officially named him 'The Mummy.' He moves like a slow mummy, and there ain't no mummy gonna whup the great Muhammad Ali." - Muhammad Ali
  • "If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I whup Foreman's behind." - Muhammad Ali
  • "It will be a divine fight, a holy war...Armageddon on a miniature scale." - Muhammad Ali
  • "All of my critics crawl! All of you suckers who write The Ring magazine, Boxing Illustrated ... all of you suckers bow!" - Muhammad Ali
  • "I told you, all of my critics, I told you all, that I was the greatest of all times when I beat Sonny Liston. I told you today, I'm still the greatest of all times." - Muhammad Ali
  • "I was the dope." - George Foreman on the rope-a-dope.

Sources

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