Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rumble in the Jungle

George Foreman vs Mohammed Ali
Kinshasa, ZaÏre, 30 October 1974

Living in Tanzania in 1974, I did not miss the excitement that surrounded this historic boxing event taking place in tropical Africa. Heavyweight champion George Foreman vs Muhammed Ali.  Zaire's president Mobutu Sésé Seko had asked for the fight to be held in his country, and in one of his first ventures as a professional boxing promoter Don King agreed, in exchange for $5 million each for the contenders. 

The heavyweight championship of the world was set to begin at 4 am local time in Kinshasa so that it could be seen on closed-circuit television live in eastern United States at 10 pm. Consequently most of us had to wait until the next morning to learn the result.

The Rumble in the Jungle is considered one of the greatest sporting moments in history. But rather than test my sport-writing capabilities, here's a concise write up I found on the Boxing Memorabilia website:

Muhammad Ali was a major underdog, boxing’s faded prince at 32 years of age. Many boxing commentators felt that Ali had reached the end of the road. Between Ali and the title was a bigger, younger and stronger man, who had never lost and had knocked out 37 of his 40 opponents. His last eight fights had all ended inside six minutes. Foreman had destroyed Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, the two men who had beaten Muhammad Ali. He was surely unbeatable in the same way that Sonny Liston had been.

This was the great promotion by Don King who had managed to raise a purse of $10 million (to be split equally) from the president of Zaire, Joseph Mobutu. Mobutu was a dictator who ruled his country through fear.

Muhammad Ali soon settled into Africa. He was recognised even in the remotest parts of the country. He soon learned the phrase that became his mantra, "Ali Boma Ye" wich translated into "Ali Kill Him." Foreman, surly and uncommunitive soon lost the PR battle. Just as Ali had painted Frazier as the outsider in his own land, he did the same to Foreman in Africa. Very quickly Ali had the whole country behind him.

Then eight days before the fight, Foreman's sparring partner Bill Murray accidentally caught him with an elbow and cut him over his right eye. The bout was off. The fight would be postponed for almost five weeks and everyone would remain in Zaire while Foreman healed. This of course gave Ali the chance to work his mind games on his opponent. With a captive press corps, he characterized Foreman as the Mummy, and mocked his straight up and down style. Ali claimed he would dance rings around Foreman when fight night came.

The weather before the fight was oppressive as the rainy season was fast approaching. The ropes of the ring would stretch in the heat and the songe mat softened and would be harder for Ali to move about. The mood in Ali's camp darkened.

The fighters entered the ring at four in the morning, to allow the satellite feeds to the US to be shown Prime Time. The attendance was 60,000 although Mobutu would watch on TV from his compound for fear of assassination. At the opening bell, Ali seized the initiative with an audatious attack. He rushed at Foreman and landed a hard right hand. Then he hit Foreman with punches that confounded the champion. Then Ali went to the ropes and allowed Foreman to hit him.

Even Angelo Dundee was unaware of Ali's plan. In between rounds one and two Ali would lead the crowds in chants of "Ali Boma Ye!" He spent the entire second round leaning on the ropes, which by now were very slack. Ali swung back into the ropes to ride Foreman's punches absorbing a lot of them on his arms and gloves. WHen the round was over Dundee shouted at Ali to start dancing. In the third round Ali ignored Dundee's advice and continued his rope-a-dope tactic.

As Foreman continued to hit him, Ali began to taunt him "Is that all you got, George? You disappoint me. My Grandma punches harder than you do... you supposed to be bad..." After two more rounds, Ali's strategy was becoming clear.

In the hot night, Foreman sucked at the heavy air. Ali continued to instruct Foreman to hit him harder. Then he opened up his gloves and said, "George, now its my turn," and unleashed some dizzying shots of his own. Slumped on his stool after the bell, Foreman was attended by worrying men. Foreman had not had to fight for more than six minutes for a long time. In contrast, Ali had hardly bothered to sit down. "I'll get him in a couple of rounds," he told Dundee.

For rounds six and seven, Ali continued to absorb punches, but landed more of his own. Foreman's swings began desperate. In the eighth, Ali's moment came, as he knew it would. Foreman aimed one last slug and staggered forward with the momentum of it. Ali sprang from the ropes, landing two beautifully timed straight right hands, a concussive left hook and a last perfect right hand.

Foreman flapped at him and then fell in a slow pirouette. As the count reached 10 he could only half stand and the fight was over. In seconds the ring was full and Ali engulfed. He had beaten the unbeatable for the second time in his career and reclaimed boxing's greatest prize. Within an hour of the end of the fight the heavens opened and the stadium was flooded.

© Copyright 2000 Boxing-Memorabilia

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