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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Looking Back: George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

Looking Back: George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

Rumble in the Jungle
Publish Date: 07/07/2022
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

Forty-seven years ago, many said the fight between undisputed heavyweight champion of the world George Foreman and former titleholder Muhammad Ali was a mismatch. A few weeks before the bout took place on October 30, 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire, ABC sports broadcaster Howard Cosell spoke of the match in hushed tones, suggesting Ali was engaging in his “Last Supper”. Check out the best bookmakers for betting on boxing.

ā€œThe time may have come to say goodbye toĀ Muhammad Ali, because very honestly, I donā€™t think he can beatĀ George Foreman,ā€ said CosellĀ a few weeks before the fight took place.

Ali, seated near Cosell during the broadcast,Ā shook his head and muttered, ā€œYouā€™re crazy.ā€

The New York Times agreed with Cosell.

“AliĀ will be out in the first round,ā€ they wrote.

ā€œGeorgeĀ could hurt him badly,ā€ said the novelist Budd Schulberg.

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Foreman liked what he was hearing.

ā€œPeople telling me, ‘There’s never been a puncher like you,Ā George. All those compliments, I started eating them. I’m gonna fightĀ Muhammad Ali–he’s the least of all these guys. I’m not nervous.’”

In his fourteen years as a professional fighter,Ā AliĀ had never faced anyone as seemingly indestructible asĀ Foreman.

And that includes Charles ā€œSonnyā€ Liston, whomĀ AliĀ defeated twice in the 1960s.

LikeĀ Ali, ForemanĀ was an Olympic gold medalist.

He was undefeated in 40 fights, scoring 37 knockouts. Foreman was a human wrecking ball.Ā His power was scary. There were rumors thatĀ ForemanĀ was forced to pay his sparring partners double the going rate. He pounded on whoever had the nerve to get into the ring with him.

This writer, in high school at the time, was in the bleachers at the Alameda Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, CA. watchingĀ ForemanĀ train.

It wasnā€™t pretty.

He brutalized his opponents. Rarely do fighters get knocked out in training camp. ForemanĀ KOā€™d two in succession. He fought like a man with a chip on his shoulder. In those days, he rarely smiled. He glowered like his idol Liston.

After he left veteran heavyweightĀ GeorgeĀ ā€œScrapironā€ Johnson flat on his back,Ā ForemanĀ stepped through the ropes like a man who knew he couldnā€™t be defeated.

Publicist Bill Caplan, who metĀ ForemanĀ in 1968, remembers the level of confidence going into theĀ AliĀ match.

ā€œGeorgeĀ was a three and a half to one favorite going into the fight. And, if it wasnā€™tĀ Muhammad Ali, the odds would have been higher,”Ā Caplan recalled. ā€œJust a few months prior to the fight,Ā GeorgeĀ had destroyed Kenny Norton in two rounds. Norton had just brokenĀ Aliā€™s jaw and it turned out he gaveĀ Ali hell in all three of their fights.

ā€œHe had destroyed Frazierā€”who had beatenĀ Ali. He knocked Frazier down six times. He was the only man to knock outĀ GeorgeĀ Chuvalo.Ā GeorgeĀ seemed indestructible. And so the confidence level was extremely high.ā€

Ali, as always, marched to his own tune.

He mockedĀ Foremanā€™s style.

ā€œGeorge Foreman is nothing but a big mummy,ā€Ā AliĀ said. ā€œIā€™ve officially named him,Ā ‘The Mummy.’ See, you all believe that stuff you see in the movies. Hereā€™s a guy running through the jungle, doing the hundred-yard dash, and the mummy is chasing him.

ā€œThomp, thomp, thomp. ‘Ooh, help! I canā€™t get away from the Mummy! Help, help! The Mummyā€™s catching me. Help! Here comes the Mummy!’ And the mummy always catches him. Well, donā€™t you all believe that stuff. There ainā€™t no mummy gonna catch me.ā€

The fight was originally scheduled for September 25, 1974 untilĀ ForemanĀ sustained a cut in training. The bout was re-scheduledĀ for October 30. The delay didnā€™t botherĀ Ali. Heā€™d become a national hero in Zaire.Ā ForemanĀ was looked at as the enemy.

On fight night, former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore worried aboutĀ Aliā€™s health.

“I was praying, and in great sincerity, thatĀ GeorgeĀ wouldn’t killĀ Ali,” recalled Moore inĀ The Fight, Norman Mailer’s eyewitness account of the match. “I really felt that was a possibility.”

AliĀ was the first to make the long walk to the ring, located in the center of the 20thĀ of May Stadium in Kinshasa. A makeshift band serenaded him. He smiled warmly at the ringside dignitaries. As he stepped through the ropes,Ā Ali, decked out in a white robe, was met by a roar that was soon followed by a chant.

ā€œAli, bomaye,ā€ (ā€Ali, kill him.ā€)

ForemanĀ delayed his entrance for close to five minutes. This was planned. He was trying to psych out the former champion.

ā€œWe wanted to make him wait a little bit,ā€ said Moore. ā€œTo see how nervous he could get.ā€

When he did appear,Ā ForemanĀ jogged to the ring. The reaction from the crowd was mixed.Ā ForemanĀ bounced in his corner. He glanced inĀ Aliā€™s direction. His robe was the color of blood.

Ali shadow-boxed. He taunted Foreman. Check out the best new bookmakers for betting on boxing.

The pre-fight stare down was an example of extremes.Ā ForemanĀ didnā€™t blink.Ā Ali, befitting his former nickname, ā€œThe Louisville Lip,ā€ talked through the refereeā€™s instructions. He rocked back and forth.

Was he scared?

Or building up his nerve?

For months,Ā AliĀ had told everyone how he would fightĀ Foreman. He would dance, employ angles, and jab. Even at 32,Ā Ali figured heā€™d be too fast forĀ Foreman.

Foremanā€™s plan was simple.

“I was going to knock his block off, and the thought of doing it didn’t bother me at all,ā€ he said a few years after the fight.

The boxing experts had the first few rounds figured out.Ā AliĀ would get on his bicycle and move.Ā ForemanĀ would stalk him.

The experts got it half right.Ā 

Foreman did pursue, butĀ Ali, instead of shooting his jab and moving away, took it toĀ Foreman. He bounced to his left and his right, throwing sneaky punches. He caughtĀ ForemanĀ with a combination, but not the standard kind.Ā AliĀ fired his right first, then hisĀ left. Both punches, especially the right, landed solidly.Ā AliĀ had used the right-hand lead on occasion in other fights. Itā€™s a dangerous punchā€”having to travel further than a standard left.

On this night, it worked like a dream.

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Foreman fought back, landing a thudding left uppercut to the body.Ā AliĀ moved away and connected with another right. He circled and grabbedĀ Foreman. He threw two more straight right hands and thenā€”it happened.Ā Foreman caught AliĀ with a vicious hook, the same kind of blow that had been knocking his rivals senseless.

The force of the punch knockedĀ AliĀ back, but he didnā€™t go down. He leaned out of the way of anotherĀ ForemanĀ salvo. He bounced and connected some more. Foreman just missed a tremendous uppercut. Near the end of the round, he landed two clubbing right hands.

Ali had expended a lot of energy in the opening round.Ā ForemanĀ was doing a good job of cutting off the ring.

“I didn’t really plan what happened that night,”Ā AliĀ saidĀ after the fight. “But when a fighter gets in the ring, he has to adjust according to the conditions he faces. AgainstĀ George, the ring was slow. Dancing all night, my legs would have got tired. So between rounds, I decided to do what I did in training when I got tired.ā€

Ali tried to maintain his edge in round two, butĀ ForemanĀ picked up the pace. He lashed out with a heavy right.Ā Ali moved away, butĀ ForemanĀ was staying in his grill.

Near the two-minute mark,Ā Ali, to the horror of his supporters, leaned against the ropes.Ā ForemanĀ let fly with some bone rattling hooks. Ali blocked most of the blows and caughtĀ ForemanĀ with a combination of his own. Instead of moving away, as most expected, he stayed on the ropes. He kept his forearms and guard high, forming a fortress. Some of the blows got through, butĀ AliĀ absorbed them.

This tactic would later be christened “The Rope-A-Dope.ā€Ā ForemanĀ unloaded his arsenal–fully expecting AliĀ to crumble, but instead, the former champion fought back, even shaking his head disdainfully atĀ ForemanĀ after the round ended.

Foreman usedĀ AliĀ as a heavy bag in round three. At this point he was fine withĀ AliĀ pinning himself against the ropes. He landed vicious shots to the midsection. He also connected withĀ a brutal right hand later in the stanza.Ā AliĀ held on toĀ Foremanā€™s head until referee Zack Clayton separated them.

The quickerĀ AliĀ was beginning to timeĀ Foreman. The champion needed to set himself before he could fire his bludgeoning blows.Ā AliĀ could see them coming. When ForemanĀ paused to reset,Ā AliĀ would strike. His shots were hard and straight, not heavy likeĀ Foremanā€™s, but powerful enough that by the end of the round,Ā Foremanā€™s face showed the effects.

AliĀ staggeredĀ ForemanĀ in round four. As he again languished on the ropes,Ā ForemanĀ casually moved in, his left-hand dangling near his waist.Ā AliĀ fired a quick one-two. The impact of the blows causedĀ ForemanĀ to stumble ever so slightly.

ForemanĀ tried to fight back, but his punches had lost some force.

He was tired.

Caplan, at ringside, had picked up on the flow of the fight two rounds earlier.

ā€œHe (Foreman) was wailing away onĀ Ali,ā€ said Caplan. ā€The ropes were loose soĀ AliĀ would lean back. In the second round,Ā I said to a friend of mine, ā€˜Oh my God, weā€™re going to blow this fight.ā€™ I could see thatĀ GeorgeĀ was already starting to run out of gas.ā€

ForemanĀ still figured that all he needed to do was land one of his violent punches, andĀ Ali, like 37 of his previous adversaries,Ā would collapse. His shots might have been slower, but some of them, like his blows to Aliā€™s ribs, landed.

Ali, like a kid playing hide-and-go-seek, peeked through his gloves and joltedĀ ForemanĀ with multiple blows to the chin.Ā He landed three snappy jabs in round six.Ā Foremanā€™s eye continued to swell.Ā AliĀ shook his head and reportedly whispered inĀ Foremanā€™s ear, “They told me you could punch,Ā George.”

Foreman was in search of his second wind in round seven, but he had basically exhausted himself. His considerable mass–and effort–was beginning to crumble.Ā Ali bided his time, pepperingĀ ForemanĀ with more blows to the face.

The end came suddenly in round eight. With about thirty seconds remainingĀ in what had been a pretty even round,Ā Ali, in his corner, clockedĀ ForemanĀ with a devious right hand. A few seconds later, two more rights found the side ofĀ Foremanā€™s face.

Instead of grabbingĀ Ali, ForemanĀ stumbled into a brain-jarring left hand that was quickly followed by theĀ coup de grace,Ā a short right.Ā Foreman, the invincible champion, did a drunken pirouette before crashing to the canvas.

ForemanĀ pulled himself up at the count of nine, but referee Clayton waved the fight off.

For the second time in his career,Ā Ali had ā€œshocked the world.ā€

He admitted after the bout that he had never been hit so hard in his entire career.

ā€œThis man could think,ā€Ā Foreman told Tim Dahlberg of AP Sports thirty-five years after his stunning defeat. ā€œHe understood I would go out there to try and knock him out. But no one had ever knocked him out,”Ā ForemanĀ said. “Where in the world did I get it in my mind I could knock him out?ā€

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