Muhammad Ali Vs. George Foreman II: Who Would Have Won And How?

Today marks the 47th anniversary of one of the most amazing, one of the biggest, one of the most unforgettable world heavyweight title fights of all-time: Muhammad Ali Vs. George Foreman – “The Rumble in The Jungle.” An epic that was watched by an estimated one billion people around the globe, the fight in Zaire was and is as big as it gets. All these years later, and fans who were not even born at the time gravitate towards this fight, they are pulled in by the spectacle of Ali’s genius, by his absolute greatness.

What it must have been like watching the super-fight unfold live, either right there in Africa or on TV or in the cinema, well, it must have been truly extraordinary. Ali, a significant underdog, an ageing former champion who many people were seriously concerned about – there was talk of “death in the air,” and of Foreman’s team praying in the dressing room that George didn’t kill Ali – really did “shake up the world” with this fight. It wasn’t the fact that Ali won, although this itself was a stunner. It was the way Ali won. By laying on the ropes and either absorbing or blocking or dodging Foreman’s wicked bombs, 32 year old Ali simply waited until the young, far less experienced champion’s gas tank emptied (“what you all call petrol,” Ali later quipped on a British TV show).

And it worked. To a tee. Foreman had no plan-B, his gas/petrol tank duly emptied and then, when his arms were almost too heavy to lift, when his lungs were burning with agonising fatigue, Foreman was sent crashing by Ali’s iconic combination. There is a great picture that captured the moment, where an unknown spectator at ringside is seen with his mouth agape, his eyes wide with a combination of genuine shock and bewilderment. The photo brilliantly (and quite accidentally) shows how practically everyone felt when Ali did what he did.

Foreman was as we know utterly devastated; to the extent that he couldn’t sleep peacefully for a number of years (George recalled years later how he would “wake up drenched in sweat,” Ali having visited him in his nightmares). Experts agree that boxing is around 90 percent mental. The Sweet Science is conducted best by a man possessing a strong mind, utter self-belief. The George Foreman of 1975/’76/’77 was no such strong-minded individual. So, what would have happened had Ali and Foreman fought a rematch during this time?

On the one hand, if Ali was looked at as a somewhat faded fighter upon going into the October 1974 fight, then the great man was universally considered all but finished in 1977; this some two years after the sheer hell of Manila and the third war with Joe Frazier. Would this version of Ali have been able to beat Foreman a second time? On the other hand, Ali was a master phycologist and this, combined with Foreman’s mental frailty – handed to him as a result of what Ali did in both making George doubt his own punching power along with his stamina – may well have guided Ali to a second win. Ali was, as the saying goes these days, living in Foreman’s head rent free. Could this version of Big George have beaten Ali and all the demons that were torturing him?

There should have been a return fight, and one was expected. Ali gave just about every big-name opponent of his career a second fight, sometimes a third fight. But not Foreman. As a result, we are forever left to wonder what might have happened in a sequel. Would the fight have again taken place in some exotic location, where the heat and humidity would have troubled Foreman and that gas/petrol tank of his, yet aided Ali? Would Ali have again used the rope-a-dope? Would Foreman have been given a superior game-plan by new trainer Gil Clancy?

The questions remain. We will never get answers. Maybe it’s best this way. How many great movies have we seen ruined, or at least spoilt, by a poor sequel? Today, Ali’s masterpiece against Foreman stands perfect, it stands untouched. It will be continually celebrated as something truly special.