The Rumble In The Jungle At 49 – As Recalled By Jerry Izenberg

10/30/2023 - By James Slater - Comments

It’s not the half-century, but as epic, as truly special, and as unforgettable as the, well, epic fight between heavyweight giants Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was/is/always will be, “The Rumble In The Jungle” is more than deserving of an on this day piece, don’t you agree?

Next year, on the 50th anniversary of the fight that took place in the heart of Africa in the early morning hours, this to accommodate US television, there will no do doubt be dozens of written tributes, documentaries and the like. Make no mistake, this fight and its stunning conclusion ranks it as one of the most important in the history of the sport.

Sadly, Ali is now gone, unable to smile as he recalls what he himself said was his most satisfying ring victory. Gone too are Angelo Dundee, Drew “Bundini” Brown, Ferdie Pacheco, Howard Bingham, and almost all of the key team members that meant so much to Ali; with only “facilitator” Gene Kilroy still living. “Big George” is of course very much still here, the 74 year old greatest living heavyweight in great shape, and not only for his age. While Don King, who put the whole thing together, is still working at age 92.

But in terms of writers/commentators who attended/worked the fight in Zaire, almost all are gone. Britain’s Colin Hart is still with us, but Harry Carpenter, Reg Gutteridge and David Frost have passed. While from the US, Bob Sheridan is gone, as are Mark Kram, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Dave Anderson, and other notable scribes who put pen to paper in marvellous fashion when reporting on The Fight.

Jerry Izenberg, who has written for The Newark Star-Ledger for decades and who has penned numerous fine boxing books during his career, was there, and Jerry, at age 93, is the sole remaining journalist who was sitting/standing there on October 30 of 1974, witnesses Ali work his magic on the brutally powerful Foreman.

Jerry kindly recalled that astonishing event for Slater’s Boxing YouTube channel a short while ago.

“George Foreman told me, years later, he said, ‘I should’ve died, I should’ve died.’ You know, he said that he should’ve gotten up – he said he did get up in time,” Jerry said. “Anyway, later on, when he won the title back after he knocked out Michael Moorer, I said to him, later, when I’m sitting in his room, I said, ‘George, that wasn’t a fight at all for you….’ He asked me what I was talking about. I said, ‘it was an exorcism.’ I told him, ‘he [Ali] was in your head from the moment you guys got to Africa, and he never left until he retired.’ And he said, ‘you’re right.’ He told me, he said, ‘the guy was too smart for me.’

“What happened was, Ali went to the ropes in the middle of the first round, he went to the ropes, and I seem to remember thinking he had been hit in the throat. Whatever it was Foreman hit him with, it hurt! So Ali goes [in his head], ‘let me go to the ropes and figure this thing out.’ And he had his hands up, and he was saying, ‘what’s wrong with this sucker, he’s trying to punch through my gloves!’ George could’ve broken his arms. George [knew] he had to get that right hand through to prove he was this and that, and that went on and on. Finally, and Ali was talking to him – ‘you punch like a girl!’ – and you go back and look at the fight. In the round before it ended, Ali, for the first time in the fight, took one step forward and he hit him with a right hand and he [Ali] went back to the ropes. That was him saying, ‘let me see what I can do, I can do it, I’ll take care of business next round.’

“It was like watching a tree fall, he [Foreman] fell in sections. After the fight in Zaire, we had a horrendous rainstorm. If the rain had come an hour earlier there would have been no fight. And we can’t go anywhere, we’re writing…..and finally the bus comes and we go. I’m sitting with Dave Anderson, a great guy, and I said, ‘Dave, I’m not happy with tonight.’ He said, ‘who can be happy, the fight was at four in the morning, we’re all half asleep.’ And it was so surprising, what do you write! I said, ‘I want to try to find him [Ali].’ I said, ‘I know where he’ll be, he’ll be down by the river, the Congo River.’

“So, we go to the riverbank, and we’re on a little hill, and he’s standing at the edge of the water, shouting into the water. We can’t hear him…..And he’s facing the river, with both arms raised in a Rocky pose, and he’s still shouting. We’re saying, ‘what the hell is going on?’ And he puts his arms down, turns, and he sees us. He says, ‘fellas, don’t ask me about what tonight meant to me, because I’m still not sure, and if I could explain it, you wouldn’t understand.’ Then he went back to his villa. When I think about that, I recall him, standing with both arms in the air, near the water, yelling, and I think to myself, at that moment, he really was the king of the world.”

Amen to that.

YouTube video