Tuesday Night Fight Talk: Did Ali duck Foreman rematch?

george foreman11.07.06 - by Barry Green: There are many mysteries and myths that surround the great sport of boxing: Would Gene Tunney have beaten a regular count in the Demspey fight? Why did Roberto Duran say 'no mas' that night in New Orleans? And who could score a fight best- Duane Ford or Stevie Wonder?

One of these so-called mysteries of modern boxing is why there was no second fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. A fight as monumental as The Rumble in the Jungle surely deserved an encore? My investigations and research reveals that perhaps Ali did avoid a second confrontation with Big George. Following the huge upset that was Zaire 1974, Muhammad Ali shattered the mystique of the then 'invincible' behemoth that was Foreman. This led to a brief exile for Foreman who did not return to the ring for a whole year, preferring to lick his wounds and then return beating up five men in one night in a self-promotion gimmick that fell as flat as most of his opponents.

When George did comeback, it was the same crashing bashing strong-armed puncher of yore, while not quite as spectacular, the jab was still as heavy as ever and an improved defence was developed under the tutorial of Gil Clancy.

In 1976 Foreman knocked out Ron Lyle in the heavyweight streetfight of the decade, a contest where it seemed that all prior knowledge of skill was not included in the contract and the Marquess of Queensberry's boxing ethic knocked into a cocked hat. This fight made Filo Bedo vs Tank Murdock in Any Which Way You Can look like a display of artistry and skill.

George then repeated his annihilation of Joe Frazier that very same year, but this time more patience and stalking. Regardless of what he had been doing fior the previous two years, Foreman had knocked out two of the best heavyweights in the world- he was once again ready for Ali.

Meanwhile, Ali embarked on a title reign that largely should have been codenamed: 'Operation Minimal Risk'. Of his 10 successful defences at least half came against challengers that would have been iced by some of Rocky Balboa's early opponents- Wepner, Dunn, Coopman, Evangelista, Bugner (by the way, they're Ali's tomato cans not Balboa's).

Still, an ageing Ali perhaps deserved an easy ride at that stage. He had enough left in his near-empty tank to defeat some great or very good fighters like Frazier, Norton, Shavers, Lyle and Young. A who's who of the best of the 1970s. But conspicuous by his absence was Foreman- the Number One contender.

The LA based Herald-Examiner newspaper interviewed Foreman in late 1976 when the former champ was carrying all of 235 pounds. George repeatedly referred to Ali as 'Clay' (perhaps to agitate him), claimed he was no greater a fighter than Joey Maxim and a novelty like Frank Sinatra "People just like to say they know him," said Big George.

This reminded me of the old joke where some guy is on a first date and on noticing Sinatra in a restaurant asks him if he would come up to him later and say hello so he can impress the girl he's taking out. When Old Blue Eyes eventually appears to say "Hi!", the guy says "F-off Frank, can't you see I'm busy".

Ali too, had become a larger than life figure whose skills had eroded and was ready to be taken by someone, soon. Foreman? Well, he certainly presented a sollid case. In fact, throughout 1975 &'76 there was barely a boxing or sports magazine to be read that didn't have Foreman clamouring for a rematch with 'Clay'.

"You'll never whup me again" cried the front page of Boxing International as the world awaited the much-publicised rematch between the two men who had contested arguably the most revered and written about fight in the annals of boxing history.

The boxing fraternity all felt he had earned a second shot at Ali. After all, the champion granted Frazier a rematch- and Norton. Even Bugner, with his best statue impression, received a second fight with Ali and a wholly undeserved crack at the title.

Ali claimed he'd fight "Norton then Foreman", even though George had smashed Norton in two rounds and Ali had already avenged his broken jaw loss to Kenny. After Ali's controversial decision over Norton in Yankee Stadium he soon announced his retirement...then quickly changed his mind and Ali's team announced he was to fight Duane Bobick next.

Foreman then crashed a scheduled press conference (that had been cancelled at the last minute) and called Ali out in front of a host of reporters in George's home state of Texas. Ali promised the throng that they would get it on again, "after two more fights" was his, somewhat, puzzling reply considering the fact that he said his next fight would "probably be his last".

Even Henry Cooper wrote that he felt the 1976 Foreman would beat up on Ali. 'Our Enery', never one to discredit Ali (well, he wouldn't want anything to detract from the spilt-glove night of 1963), suggested that the Norton fight spelt the beginning of the end for 'The Greatest'. He was right.

In their third and final meeting, Ali was hurt on a few occassions by hard body shots from Kenny- the same type that he took all night long in Zaire. If the fair hitting Norton could damage Ali to the midriff,what could the murderous power of Big George do to the ageing ring worn body of the heavyweight champion?

Ali then announced his retirement once again, saying Foreman would beat either Norton or Bobick and become only the third man to regain the heavyweight diadem. Ali reneged on his retirement and told Boxing News he was "ready to accept Foreman challenge," but no fight with George materialised.

A lack-lustre Foreman would lose his March'77 fight to the wily octopus-like Jimmy Young, whom he signed to fight when Ali elected to take on Uruguay's best Alfredo Evangelista, although what he was 'best' at is open to debate, it probably wasn't boxing. How did the latino earn his shot at the title? By losing to Lorenzo Zanon!!!!

Following the Young loss George announced his own retirement after apparently 'seeing' Jesus Christ in his dressing room (there's no truth to the rumour that Jesus was scheduled to fight on the undercard but pulled out because he had 'bad hands').

Of course, Foreman would go on to launch one of the great sporting comebacks a decade later as fate pitted him against the chinny mood-swinging Michael Moorer for the heavyweight crown and the rest, as they say, was history.
Thus giving Foreman a deserved place amongst the higher echelon of heavyweight greats.

There are not many boxing followers that are as big an Ali fan as I am but the evidence is very strong that Muhammad was less than compliant about securing a Foreman rematch. His excuses and general dodging of the issue smacked of an athlete no longer confident in his ability to overcome long odds.

The Rumble in the Jungle was a tougher fight than it appeared and the punishment Ali took that night was something he did not want to go through again (who in their right mind would?). Certainly not a prime Ali, but this version was none too eager.

Ali at that time was beginning to struggle when fighting 15 rounds at a quick pace, so Foreman's suspect stamina would not have been too big a factor. Even Earnie Shavers went the full 15 rounds for the only time in his career against Ali in September 1977. Shavers, a nuclear puncher every bit George's equal (and some say harder) found some success in the slower pace of the fight and took the champion to a very close decision.

Using that fight as a barometer, this tells me that Foreman would have gone the distance too, and, his greater all-round boxing ability could very well have seen him score even more success than Shavers did.

Those that disagree with my take here will claim that Ali would only do what Jimmy Young did in Puerto Rico. But Young was a spoiler in the classic sense and was unwilling to really take punishment to secure a verdict. Ali's pride and ability to take heavy shots would have seen Foreman score more successfully than he did against Young. Thus giving him a greater chance of victory.

So, while Ali wasn't necessarily afraid of Foreman, it is certain that he wanted to make Foreman wait another year for the opportunity to fight him again (a move favoured a decade when Ray Leonard waited for Hagler to lose and step or two before signing on the dotted line). Foreman's points loss to Jimmy Young meant he never received his wish but the result of that fight meant that Ali got his and Ali-Foreman II ranks as the best rematch that never was.

Article posted on 12.07.2006

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