One of the most celebrated fights in boxing history, the epic Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight, celebrates its 45th anniversary this week (October 30). a truly stunning display by the one and only Ali saw “The Greatest” regain his crown and wash away any doubts regarding his, well, greatness. It was majestic stuff and Ali might just have fought his finest fight, in terms of blending skill, guts, brains and outright sheer nerve, anyway.
Interestingly, it was years after the fight took place that the three official score-cards re-emerged. Foreman himself, in a number of interviews conducted years after the fight, after the crushing loss that so changed him as a person, stated again and again that had he had the chance to fight Ali again when more experienced, he would have let Ali come to him, that he had been “way ahead on points” in the 1974 fight and that in a second chance against Ali, he as champ would be content to sit back and force Ali to try and take the title.
As it was, though, Foreman was not ahead on points in The Rumble; not on one scorecard.
Instead the official scores read as follows: 70-67, 69-66 and 68-66, all in favor of Ali.
So going into the fateful eighth-round, the fight was still pretty close, but with Foreman fading the way he was, how could he have been able to last another eight sessions? Ali was the winner, all the way. But no-one felt it would turn out that way.
Going into the fight, the ageing Ali was given little chance of winning by most; to the extent that many openly worried for the 32 year old’s health. Foreman, a genuine wrecking machine, was 25, at his peak and he had utterly annihilated the only two men to have beaten Ali: Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Also, to make matters worse for Ali’s chances, in training ahead of the big fight in the unlikely setting of the African Jungle, the young champion had shown proficient ability at cutting the ring off on his sparring partners. With Ali’s only chance of victory seemingly being to dance and to stick and move and MAYBE pick up a points win, Foreman’s ability to cut off an opponent and make his escape route a tough thing to locate greatly worried Ali supporters.
Instead of dancing, Ali of course did the impossible and, laying on the ropes, let Foreman punch himself out and then unleashed his own punches in a dazzling combination that felled the Texan monster. It was that simple, even though doing what he did that early morning in Zaire took great nerve from Ali (who else could have beaten the 1974 version of Foreman in such a way?). But that early morning, no-one was doubting what they had seen, or the validity of Ali’s superb win. That came later.
Started by the beaten (and beaten up) ex-champion, tales of “loose ropes,” a “short count,” and of Foreman having “been drugged” emerged. To this day, these myths, and a few more, persist.
Let’s try, one more time, to clear it up.
Ali did the “impossible,” therefore it became surprisingly easy to swallow the outlandish theories “explaining” the fight and Ali’s thoroughly unexpected win.
Angelo Dundee did NOT loosen the ropes.
This one has endured and endured, frustratingly so. Dundee had no knowledge of his fighter’s plan to lay on the ropes and soak up Foreman’s lethal blows. Heck, even Ali himself did not go into the ring knowing he would do this. Why then, would Dundee loosen the ropes? He didn’t. During the fight, with Ali on the ropes, Angelo, “feeling sick” at the sight of his fighter laying against the ropes, so high up from the floor (“I was scared to death my guy would fall out of the ring,” Dundee later said) was screaming at him to get OFF the ropes.
Dundee didn’t loosen the ropes, to the contrary, he tried to tighten them.
There was no “short count.”
Referee Zack Clayton, who did a great job in the fight, hit “ten” just as Foreman rose. Totally beaten, Foreman had nothing left anyway.
As for his being drugged, we have only Foreman’s tale of “tasting something like medicine” in the water his trainer Dick Saddler gave him in the dressing room minutes before the fight began. But what could have drugged Foreman to the extent that he was okay for three or four-rounds and only then began to look tired, flail with his punches and generally appear out of ideas, dizzy and exhausted? It couldn’t have been anything to do with the heat, Foreman’s limited (at the time) stamina and Ali’s own sharp punches coming back at him as George walked in…….could it?
Of course we can never prove Foreman wasn’t drugged, but it seems incredibly doubtful.
Ali won and he won with his skills, guts and brains. To say otherwise is to take away from a superb fighter’s finest victory. Celebrate this astonishing fight/performance from a true immortal and also appreciate what you are watching.