Today in History: Ali drops, shocks Foreman

October 30, 2019

On this day, 30 October 1974 (Exactly 45 years ago today), “Rumble in the Jungle”: Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the 8th round in Kinshasa, Zaire to regain the world heavyweight boxing title with famous “rope-a-dope” tactic.

It has been called “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”. It was a major upset victory, with Ali coming in as a 4–1 underdog against the unbeaten, heavy-hitting Foreman. The fight is famous for Ali’s introduction of the rope-a-dope tactic.

The fight was watched by a record estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers worldwide, becoming the world’s most-watched live television broadcast at the time. This included a record estimated 50 million viewers watching the fight pay-per-view on closed-circuit theatre TV. The fight grossed an estimated $100 million (inflation-adjusted $510 million) in worldwide revenue

Inception
Don King arranged this fight with the music businessman Jerry Masucci, who took his famed musicians, the Fania All Stars, to play at the venue. King managed to get Ali and Foreman to sign separate contracts saying they would fight for him if he could get a $5 million purse. Such amount of money, quite enormous for those days, was purported to prevent other top boxing promoters from attempts to arrange a Foreman vs. Ali match under their own auspices, so no one else would try to take King’s signatories.

However, as King did not have the money, and was not welcomed to stage an event of such a profile in the United States, he began seeking an outside country to stage and sponsor the event. Fred Wyman, an American advisor to Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, persuaded Mobutu that the publicity such a high-profile event would generate would help his regime, Mobutu agreed for the fight to be held in his country. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi came as a primary financial sponsor of the event, providing the purse money for the athletes and covering other major expenses.

King had pulled together a consortium that included Risnelia Investment from Panama; the Hemdale Film Corporation, a British company founded by film producer John Daly and the actor David Hemmings; Video Techniques Incorporated of New York; and Don King Productions. Although King is most closely associated with the fight, Hemdale and Video Techniques Inc., with whom King was a director, were the bout’s official co-promoters.

The fight was broadcast on closed circuit television in theaters in the United States and on over-the-air television throughout the world. The play by play commentary was done by “Colonel” Bob Sheridan. Color commentary was done by Jim Brown, David Frost, and Joe Frazier.

Build-up
In 1967, then-champion Ali was stripped of his title and suspended from boxing for 3½ years for his refusal to comply with the draft and enter the U.S. Army. In 1970, he first regained a boxing license and promptly fought comeback fights against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena in an attempt to regain the heavyweight championship from the then undefeated Joe Frazier. In a bout dubbed the Fight of the Century, Frazier won a unanimous decision, leaving Ali fighting other contenders for years in an attempt at a new title shot.

Meanwhile, the heavily muscled Foreman had quickly risen from a gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics to the top ranks of professional heavyweights. Greatly feared for his punching power, size, and sheer physical dominance, Foreman was nonetheless underestimated by Frazier and his promoters, and knocked the champion down six times in two rounds before the bout was stopped. He further solidified his hold over the heavyweight division by demolishing the only man besides Frazier at the time to defeat Ali, Ken Norton, in two rounds. At 25, the younger and stronger Foreman seemed an overwhelming favorite against the well-worn 32-year-old Ali.

Foreman and Ali spent much of the middle of 1974 training in Zaire, getting acclimated to its tropical African climate. The fight was originally set to happen on September 25 (September 24 in the United States due to the difference in time zones), however, eight days prior to that Foreman was cut above his right eye by the accidental elbow thrown by his sparring partner Bill McMurray in a sparring session. This required Foreman to receive eleven stitches, with the date pushed back to October 30.

A three-night-long music festival to hype the fight, Zaire 74, took place as scheduled, September 22–24, including performances by James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, Bill Withers, The Crusaders, and Manu Dibango, as documented in the 2008 film Soul Power.

The championship was scheduled for 4 am local time in order to appear on live closed-circuit television in the Eastern Time Zone of the U.S. at 10 pm

THE FIGHT
Foreman was the overwhelming favourite. Seven years Ali’s junior, a ferocious hitter and built like a tank, the bookies felt sure he would have too much for the savvy 32-year-old. Ali was no longer a lithe youngster; though not overweight he was puffier than in his youth, a look that suggested a degree of slowness.

In fact there were sincere concerns for Ali’s safety, such was Foreman’s ferocity. The champion had won his previous eight fights inside the first two rounds, including victories against the two men who had beaten Ali. He was machine-like in his demolition of opponents.

Aware that beating Foreman would require something different, Ali deployed a dangerous and incredibly brave strategy. Dubbed “rope-a-dope”, his game plan was to retreat to the ropes and allow Foreman to unleash blows at will, with Ali dodging the worst but taking many to his body and arms. “Is that all you got, George?” Ali would ask after eating another huge punch from there hardest hitter on the planet. “Is that all you got?”

Despite the onslaught Ali survived, while Foreman began to tire. The champion hadn’t fought beyond the fourth round in more than three years. As the fight progressed, he was heading into uncharted territory.

With Foreman tiring his downfall became inevitable. He was conditioned to finish his prey quickly, not pursue it for an hour. Ali came out punching in the eighth and Foreman had no answer. With seconds remaining in the round the challenger floored the champion, who was as exhausted as he was hurt. The fight was stopped and the 60,000 crowd erupted. Incredibly, Ali was champion once more.

The Rumble in the Jungle was a momentous fight that more than lived up to the hype. Today, it is considered one of the greatest sporting events of all time. Perhaps more than anything, it should be remembered as the fight that secured Muhammad Ali’s status as the biggest star in the history of sport.

Legacy
The Rumble in the Jungle is one of Ali’s most famous fights, ranking alongside 1971’s Fight of the Century between the unbeaten former champion Ali and the unbeaten then heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and the pair’s final match, the Thrilla in Manila in 1975. The Rumble in the Jungle remains a large cultural influence.

The events before and during the fight are depicted in the Academy Award winning documentary When We Were Kings (1996). Due to his Parkinsonism, Ali had trouble walking to the stage to be part of the group receiving the Oscar and Foreman helped him up the steps.

The documentary also showed the musical acts (James Brown, B.B. King, The Spinners, and Bill Withers, among others) who performed during a three-day musical showcase staged in advance of the championship bout.

The biographical movie Ali (2002) depicts this fight as the film’s climax.

In the movie Rocky III (1982), Rocky uses a strategy similar to the rope-a-dope in his rematch with Clubber Lang.

Norman Mailer wrote a book, The Fight, describing the events and placing them within the context of his views of African American culture.

George Plimpton covered the fight for Sports Illustrated and it is featured in detail in his book Shadow Box.

The historical fiction novel, The Poisonwood Bible, mentions the fight.

Johnny Wakelin wrote a song about the fight called In Zaire.

The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, and John Forte wrote a song about the fight titled Rumble in the Jungle.

The Hours also wrote a song about the fight titled Ali In The Jungle.

The fight was ranked seventh in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Sporting Moments IN 2002.

The fight was covered in an episode of ESPN Classic’s The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…, examining reasons why people shouldn’t blame Foreman for losing.

On this day 30 October 1997 (Exactly 22 years ago today) Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona announced his retirement from football on his 37th birthday

On this day 30 October 1988 (Exactly 31 years ago today) Brazilian McLaren driver Ayrton Senna won the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, his record 8th GP win of the season to clinch his first Formula 1 World Drivers Championship

On this day 30 October 2011 (Exactly 8 years ago today) Czech tennis star Petra Kvitová beat Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7–5, 4–6, 6–3 in the WTA Championship decider in Istanbul, Turkey

On this day 30 October 2016 (Exactly 3 years ago today) Slovak tennis star Dominika Cibulková beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 to win the WTA Finals title decider in Kallang, Singapore.

 

STORIES: GEORGE MAHAMAH


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