When Big George Foreman stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” on October 30, 1974…..he had a professional record of 40 – 0 with 38 by KO or TKO….and was considered to be unbeatable by anyone in the heavyweight ranks…..after having destroyed the likes of Ken Norton and Smokin’ Joe Frazier along the way to his undefeated record prior to Ali. The Rumble in the Jungle was a historic boxing event in 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). Held at the 20th of May Stadium….it pitted the undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman against challenger Muhammad Ali, a two-time former heavyweight champion….with an attendance was about 60,000 fight fans.
The event was one of Don King’s first ventures as a professional boxing promoter. He managed to get Ali and Foreman to sign separate contracts saying they would fight for him if he could get a $5 million purse….however, King did not have the money….so he began looking for an outside country to sponsor the event. Zaïre’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko asked for the fight to be held in his country….eager for the publicity such a high-profile event would bring. King had pulled together a consortium that included a Panamanian company called Risnelia Investment, the Hemdale Film Corporation….a British company founded by film producer John Daly and the actor David Hemmings….along with 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 official co-promoters of the fight. 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 2016 International Boxing Hall of Fame announcer “Colonel” Bob Sheridan. Color Commentary was done by Jim Brown, David Frost and Joe Frazier.
Ali was famed for his speed and technical skills….while Foreman’s raw power was his greatest strength….so, defying convention…Ali began the fight by attacking Foreman with disorienting right-hand leads….as this was notable as it seemed that close range fighting would inevitably favor Foreman….leaving too great a chance that Ali would be stunned by Foreman’s powerful “haymakers”. Ali made use of the right-hand lead punch (striking with the right hand without setting up the left) in a further effort to disorient Foreman. However, while this aggressive tactic may have surprised Foreman and allowed Ali to hit him solidly a number of times….it failed to significantly hurt him….as Foreman began to catch up to Ali before the 1st round ended…while landing a few punches of his own. Foreman had also been trained to cut off the ring and prevent escape….as Ali realized that he would tire if Foreman could keep making one step to Ali’s two….so he changed tactics.
Ali had told his trainer, Angelo Dundee, and his fans that he had a secret plan for Foreman….and as the second round commenced….Ali frequently began to lean on the ropes and cover up….thus letting Foreman punch him on the arms and body….a strategy Ali later dubbed the “rope-a-dope”. As a result, Foreman spent his energy throwing punches that either did not hit Ali or were deflected in a way that made it difficult for Foreman to hit Ali’s head….while sapping Foreman’s strength due to the large number of punches he had thrown….as this loss of energy was key to Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactic.
Meanwhile, Ali took every opportunity to shoot straight punches to Foreman’s face….which was soon visibly puffy….and when the two fighters were locked in clinches….Ali consistently out-wrestled Foreman….using tactics such as leaning on Foreman to make Foreman support Ali’s weight….and holding down Foreman’s head by pushing on his neck. He constantly taunted Foreman in these clinches….telling him to throw more punches….and an enraged Foreman responded by doing just that….proving once again how great Muhammad Ali was at psychological warfare.
After several rounds of this….Foreman began to tire….while his face became increasingly damaged by hard fast jabs and crosses….as the effects were visible as Foreman was staggered by an Ali combination at the start of the fourth round….and again several times near the end of the fifth….after Foreman had seemed to dominate that round. Although Foreman kept throwing punches and coming forward….so, after the fifth round he looked increasingly worn out. Ali continued to taunt him by saying, “They told me you could punch, George!” and “They told me you could punch as hard as Joe Louis.”….and according to Foreman….”I thought he was just one more knockout victim until about the seventh round when I hit him hard to the jaw….after which he held me and whispered in my ear…. ‘That all you got, George?’….cuz that is when I realized that this ain’t what I thought it was.”
As the fight drew into the eighth round, Foreman’s punching and defense became ineffective as the strain of throwing so many wild shots took its toll. Ali pounced as Foreman tried to pin Ali on the ropes….landing several right hooks over Foreman’s jab….followed by a 5-punch combination which culminated with a left hook that brought Foreman’s head up into position….and then a hard right straight to the face that caused Foreman to stumble to the canvas. Foreman did get up at the count of nine….but referee Zack Clayton stopped the bout with two seconds remaining in the round.
The fight showed that Ali was capable of taking a punch and highlighted his tactical genius by changing his fighting style when he adopted the rope-a-dope instead of his former style that emphasized movement to counter his opponent. Film of the Zaïre fight shows Foreman striking Ali with hundreds of thunderous blows….many blocked….but many others getting through. Foreman mostly struck to the sides and kidney region….but also landed some vicious shots to the head….which seemingly had no effect….once again proving the punishment that Muhammad Ali could endure in the ring.
This fight has since become one of the most famous fights of all time because it resulted in Ali….against the odds….regaining the title against a younger and stronger Foreman. It is shown several times annually on the ESPN Classic network. After this fight, Ali once again told the world he was the greatest. A year later Ali won an epic battle with Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. Although his skills and reflexes deteriorated noticeably in later bouts….he remained Champion until 1978…..when he was dethroned by Leon Spinks….only to have Ali regained the title for an unprecedented third time after beating Spinks in a rematch.
Ali won by knockout by putting Foreman down just before the end of the eighth round. It has been called “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”.