Paul Fitzgerald revisits an epic heavyweight boxing match: George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle.
The Rumble in the Jungle took place in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, during the early hours of the 30th of October, 1974. The event saw Muhammad Ali challenge the then undefeated George Foreman for the heavyweight title. It has been called arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century.
In 1974, Foreman was a surly beast whose personality was a far cry from the amiable individual he later evolved into. Going into the fight, Foreman was considered unbeatable with a record of forty wins, thirty-seven knock-outs and no defeats. Most of his fights ended in first or second round knock-outs. One such fight was a total annihilation of Ali’s great perennial dance partner, Joe Frazier. Foreman was a wrecking machine, whose punching power felt like his fists were shoved into cinder blocks before each fight, rather than fitted inside boxing gloves. Foreman was quite possibly the hardest hitter in the history of heavyweight boxing. “My opponents don’t worry about losing, they worry about getting hurt,” bragged Foreman.
Muhammad Ali lost three and a half of his best years in the sport due to his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War. He was on a crusade to regain the Heavyweight Championship. He remained the brash, mouthy protagonist that he had always been. He promised to unveil his new punch during the fight which he named his “ghetto whopper”. “The reason it’s called the ghetto-whopper is because it’s thrown in the ghetto at three o’ clock in the morning, which is when me and George are gonna fight.” Going into the fight, the challenger was the underdog; it was generally considered that the weathered 32-year-old Ali was no match for the fresh-faced 24-year-old Foreman.
The fight began with a series of wild exchanges from both fighters, and Foreman didn’t expect Ali come out and attack so feverishly. The first few rounds were fought at a frenetic pace until Ali altered his game plan during the third round when he entered survival mode, and used his rope-a-dope tactic. Ali’s plan made use of the rope which he leaned on for minutes at a time during rounds. While safeguarding his head and using his body as a punching bag to absorb Foreman’s crushing blows, it allowed Ali to preserve energy; Foreman would only waste his. This tactic was considered a huge gamble on the part of Ali, as he absorbed relentless amounts of punishment for seven rounds or so. Defying his trainer Angelo Dundee’s instructions by fighting off the ropes, Ali’s gamble paid off when Foreman ran out of steam during the eighth round. Ali, who gave Foreman the moniker of “the mummy” prior to the fight, made Foreman stumble over his own feet by bombarding him with an incessant salvo of thunderous one-two punches. Foreman, who fell like a crashing dolmen, was made to kiss the canvass for the first time in his career.
Shortly after the fight ended, a torrential thunderstorm began flooding the stadium and thousands of fans rapturously shouted “Ali bomaye! (Kill him, Ali!).” Ali’s iconic status was sealed. The Rumble in the Jungle, when the irresistible force met the immovable object, is rightly considered one of the greatest fights of the 20th century.
Pundit Arena, Paul Fitzgerald.
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