Thirty Years Ago: Ali And Foreman Rumbled In The Jungle

10.29.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - Thirty years ago on the morning of October 30th 1974, Muhammad Ali 44-2 (32) was just hours away from entering the ring to challenge undisputed heavyweight champion George Foreman 40-0 (37). The fight with Foreman represented more than just a chance for him to become the second former heavyweight champ to regain the title. A victory over Foreman meant validation and redemption for Ali.

By October 1974, seven years had passed since Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing Induction into the U.S. Army on April 28th 1967. After the then Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston in February of 1964 to capture the heavyweight title, he announced that he was a member of the Nation of Islam, and was adopting the name Cassius X. Two weeks later he was given the name Muhammad Ali by Elijah Muhammad the leader of the Nation of Islam. From that point on, Ali was a marked man by the so called establishment, and viewed as someone dangerous and capable of in sighting a race war between Whites and Blacks.

After a 43 month forced exile from boxing, Ali returned to the ring. In the four years in between his comeback fight with Jerry Quarry in October 1970, up to his title fight with George Foreman in October 1974, Ali fought for the title once, and went 12-2 in 14 fights.

In his first title shot, he lost a 15 round unanimous decision to undefeated heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in the biggest and most anticipated fight in boxing history. After losing to Frazier, Ali won ten fights in a row against the top contenders in the heavyweight division. In an effort to force Frazier into fighting him again, he was trying to eliminate all of his future opponents. In his eleventh fight he was upset by seventh ranked contender Ken Norton. Norton won a split decision over Ali and broke his jaw in the fight. The loss too Norton was the low point of Ali's career. Two months before Ali lost to Norton, George Foreman demolished Joe Frazier in two rounds to become undisputed heavyweight champion. With Foreman's win over Frazier, coupled with Ali's loss to Norton, Ali was perceived as being fourth in the pecking order among the four.

Six months after losing to Norton, Ali fought him again and won the rematch by a split decision to even the score. Four months later, Ali won a unanimous decision over the only other fighter to defeat him, Joe Frazier, knotting them at 1-1. Two months after Ali decisioned Frazier, Foreman knocked out Norton in the second round to retain the heavyweight title in Caracas Venezuela. To insure Foreman didn't have the spotlight all to himself, Ali was ringside for the fight. Foreman hadn't even had his arms raised in victory, and Ali was already in the ring issuing challenges to him. The drumbeat for Foreman vs Ali started immediately afterwards. And it was the antics of Ali that kept the fight front and center for the next couple months. The only thing missing was someone to come up with the money needed to make the fight.

When a new Promoter on the scene named Don King showed up with 10 million dollars for Foreman and Ali to split, (the largest purse in history at the time) the fight was made. It was set for September 25th 1974, and would be held in at a venue called the 20th of May Stadium in Kinshasa Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Don King titled the fight, "The Rumble In The Jungle."

For Ali, beating Foreman would signify his redemption after having the title taken away from him for Political reasons seven years earlier. However, Foreman was thought to be so unbeatable and invincible at the time, Ali now 32 wasn't given much of a chance against him. But Muhammad Ali was at his brilliant best when pushed to the edge of a cliff. And he realized that if he could beat Foreman, his detractors and critics would have to pay homage to him and admit he was an all time great heavyweight champion.

The George Foreman of 1974 who Ali confronted was thought to be the single greatest puncher in heavyweight history, an opinion still held by many 30 years later. His eight fights prior to fighting Ali ended in the first or second rounds. The question wasn't if Foreman was going to beat Ali, that was assumed. It was just how long would it take and how much punishment would Ali absorb in the process?

The most respected fight observers in the world couldn't envision any fighter withstanding Foreman's fierce assault. Former heavyweight champions Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey both said they'd never seen a fighter who could hit like Foreman, and gave Ali no chance to win. And stated that Ali no longer had the legs to stay away and box Foreman. They were both certain Ali couldn't win and would be overwhelmed by the champion's awesome strength and punching power.

Some felt that maybe the Ali of the sixties who had great legs and the ability to move laterally may have been able to stay away from Foreman and out box him, but not the Ali of 1974. Since returning to the ring against Quarry, Ali's legs only resembled their pre-exile form in his rematch with Ken Norton, and that only lasted for the first six rounds in their 12 round bout. Holding off Foreman for 15 rounds figured to be much tougher.

The Ali traveling show arrived in Zaire shortly before Foreman did, a month before the original date of September 25th. Before Ali's feet were firmly planted on the African soil, he began to win the crowd over, leading to the chant "Ali bomaye" -- "Ali kill him." Foreman and Ali passed each other routinely while in Zaire, and Ali being Ali never failed not to deride and mock Foreman every chance he got. Foreman, not to be outdone by Ali, told the media he developed a punch just for him, and called it "the anywhere punch", meaning anywhere it landed it did damage. Since the fight was scheduled to start between three and four in the morning, Ali countered with his own specialty punch, "The Ghetto Whopper," saying it was thrown in the Ghetto at 3 O'clock in the morning.

A week before the fight in the last round of his sparring session, Foreman was cut over his eye. The fight had to be pushed back to October 30th. The Dictator at that time, Mobutu Sese Seko reportedly the seventh richest man in the world ordered both fighters to remain in the Country. Since it was his Government that put up the ten million dollars for the fight, he didn't want to chance the fighters leaving and not coming back. It was well known that Foreman hated being there and wanted to leave, and it came out years later that Ali wanted to leave almost as bad.

While Ali was out mingling with the people, Foreman remained locked up in his room in seclusion at The Intercontinental Hotel. At the same time Ali was winning over the people of Zaire, his chief cheerleader Drew "Bundini" Brown was spreading rumors that he was paying the cooks at Foreman's Hotel to poison his food. Bundini was also spreading rumors about having had a curse cast over Foreman that would paralyze him and sap his strength during the fight.

Finally after a five week postponement, October 30th arrived with the fight set to start at 4am. This early morning start was so the fight could be seen on closed circuit TV broadcast in the U.S. Ali, the challenger came to the ring first. Foreman took his time leaving his dressing room in an attempt to throw Ali off. And just as he used the postponement of the fight to his advantage, Ali used this extra time to get the crowd worked up in showing their support of him. After keeping Ali waiting for about eight minutes, Foreman came storming out of his dressing room jogging towards the ring.

At center ring they both attempted to stare the other down. While referee Zack Clayton was giving the instructions, Ali said to Foreman, you've been hearing about me since you were a boy in diapers, and now you have to face me, you're in trouble. Foreman just glared back at Ali and both fighters went back to their corner to wait for the bell to ring for round one. Ali constantly said leading up to the fight that he knew he had to beat Foreman to prove he is the greatest. And that if he lost to Foreman, he lost his right to ever proclaim himself the greatest. He also said he was going to dance and box Foreman in the fight.

However, when the bell for round one rang, Ali flew out of his corner and met Foreman almost in his corner. In the first round Foreman was on top of Ali and forcing him to fight. The only thing saving Ali were his quicker hands, enabling him to beat Foreman to the punch disrupting his charge, briefly, and his cast iron chin when he was caught flush. From about mid second round on, Ali became more stationary and used the ropes to lean back and catch Foreman's bombs on his arms, shoulders, and body. What Ali found out in those early rounds was Foreman cut the ring off better than he thought, and the ring surface was soft and slowed him down. And lastly after being hit with some of Foreman's bombs, he thought if he could weather Foreman's early assault, the payoff could be an exhausted champion in the later rounds.

From rounds three to seven, Foreman stalked Ali and tried to take his head off with every punch he threw. As Foreman bored in to try and work Ali over, Ali would time him catching him with quick straight lefts and rights, and every once in a while he'd nail him with right hand leads. When Foreman had Ali on the ropes, he unloaded on him with every big punch in his arsenal. While Ali was getting hammered, he talked to Foreman telling him to hit harder, and saying things like is that all you got, or that didn't hurt.

At the end of the seventh round, Foreman was just about spent. He came out for the eighth round and tried to remain the aggressor and continued taking the fight to Ali. In turn, Ali went to the ropes as he had in the rounds before. At the end of the eighth round, Ali caught an overextended Foreman with a left-right followed by another stinging one two, the last punch a straight right to Foreman's jaw sent him to the canvas.

Foreman just missed beating the count of ten, not that it would've made a difference since he had nothing left, and was ruled out by referee Zack Clayton waving his hands signaling the end of the fight. The waving of Clayton's hands marked the end of Foreman's title tenure and began Ali's second. Ten years after beating Sonny Liston, Ali was heavyweight champion of the world again. Ali's knockout of Foreman did much more than just get back the title he was stripped of seven years earlier. What it did was validate him as a great fighter, something he'd been saying since the early sixties. Against Foreman, Ali did what was deemed impossible by every respected boxing expert/observer alive, Win.

Writers Note

Ali's victory over Foreman justified his claim to greatness. Foreman of 1974 was thought and believed to be the most unbeatable heavyweight fighter in history. Now many Monday morning quarterbacks look back and say Foreman couldn't beat a good boxer. They just kept it to themselves in 1974 I guess? What they were saying back then was Foreman was too strong and hit to hard for any fighter to out box. Now everybody could've done what Ali did? That's not so at all. No other fighter was like Ali. And I guarantee had the 40-0 (37) Foreman been fighting what ever fighters they now say would beat him, they would be a week old ghost seven days before the fight.

Debunking The Myth

It was said before the Foreman vs. Ali fight that the only way Ali could upset the 3-1 favored Foreman, was by boxing him and possibly cutting him causing the fight to be stopped. However, it turned out that Foreman was too strong for Ali to box. Foreman forced him too fight. Ali didn't beat Foreman because he was a great boxer and had more speed of hand and foot. The biggest myth in boxing is the one where it's believed Foreman was unable to beat a good boxer, and that's why he lost his title to Muhammad Ali and lost to Jimmy Young. Regarding Young, Foreman was a head case after losing to Ali. And admits it took him ten years to recover psychologically after losing to Ali. The pre-Ali version of Foreman would gone through Young in less than three rounds.

Why did Foreman lose to Ali? The fact is Ali beat Foreman because he was tougher and stronger than he's ever given credit for. Ali didn't box Foreman! He went to the ropes and allowed Foreman to hit on him, is that boxing? What if Foreman had knocked him out while he was stationary against the ropes. It would've been said for the rest of time, why did Ali remain stationary letting Foreman get off on him? How come he didn't use the ring and box? Which is exactly what those watching the fight were thinking and saying during rounds two through eight. That's not boxing, that's being forced to fight because your opponent will not allow you to box.

On October 30th 1974, Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman because he is as tough or tougher than any fighter who has yet lived. And that is also why he beat Joe Frazier. To say it was Ali's skill as a boxer that carried him to victory is a complete myth. Against Foreman and Frazier, Ali wasn't able to slide and glide to stay out of harms way. He fought flatfooted against them because he no longer had the legs that he used to move like he did against Sonny Liston.

Ask yourself this, Had Frazier and Foreman been asked before fighting Ali if they thought they would hit him with as many big punches as they did, I'd bet anything they would've responded saying, "NO. As a follow up question, how would they answer if they were told before fighting Ali that they would land their Sunday best on him as flush and often as they did? I'd bet anything that they would both say that if they hit Ali with as many bombs as they did, they would have knocked him out.

That's how you know it was Ali's toughness and durability that enabled him to defeat Frazier and Foreman, more than his skill as a boxer. Had Ali not been so tough and blessed with a steel chin, he would've been stopped by both. Ali out boxed Sonny Liston, he out fought Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Article posted on 30.10.2004

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