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The Rumble in the Jungle: Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman, 30 October 1974

The year was 1974. The Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World was the ferocious and intimidating George Foreman. He had destroyed Smokin’ Joe Frazier the previous year to win the WBA, WBC and The Ring heavyweight titles. More impressive than the win was the way in which Foreman became champion. Frazier was no slouch. He was undefeated and had given Ali his first loss in 1971. Despite Frazier’s undeniable toughness and talent, he was mauled by Foreman within 2 rounds. At one point, Frazier was lifted off the canvas with a Foreman uppercut.

Ali’s path to the bout was different. He had won the Heavyweight Championship against Sonny Liston at the tender age of 22. The next few years saw him display an elite level of talent and fortitude that made people realize they were watching greatness that comes by once in a generation. Things seemed to be going well for Ali’s boxing career until 1967, when he refused the draft for the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, famously clarifying his position with the words “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” Ali’s boxing license was revoked, preventing him from boxing between March 1967 and October 1970.

By the time Ali vs. Foreman would come round, people felt Ali’s best years were behind him. He was no longer the untouchable boxer he had once been. Youth wasn’t on his side anymore and the years away from the ring were enough to derail anyone’s career. Ali’s loss to Frazier in 1971 and Foreman’s subsequent demolition of him in 1973 had people concerned for Ali’s health.

Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman, famously billed the Rumble in the Jungle, took place in Kinshasa, Zaire on 30 October 1974. Despite some early success from Ali, Foreman kept pushing forward, unfazed by Ali’s dancing and by the end of Round 1, things didn’t look good for Ali. The following rounds would require patience and substantial resilience from Ali as he implemented his rope-a-dope strategy.

The rope-a-dope strategy required taking punishment from Foreman in the attempt to tire him out, leaving him vulnerable in later rounds. Already within Round 2, Ali’s pace was reduced and it looked as if he was barely hanging on. The following rounds saw Ali eat shot after shot that had knocked out Foreman’s previous opponents. Much of the rest of the bout had Ali against the ropes taking punishment.

Muhammad Ali taking a shot from George Foreman during the Rumble in the Jungle bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, 1974.
Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy was used to tire out Foreman.

While the fight looked one-sided as Foreman clubbed away at Ali, the reality was different. Ali was struggling, however Foreman was tiring out. Ali was also connecting with unexpected counters that were hurting Foreman. HBO commentary’s assessment of Foreman was accurate: “This man is devastating to say the least, these punches are not.” Round 8 is where everything changed. Foreman was sluggishly clubbing away at Ali, almost as if on autopilot, completely drained of power and unprepared for the counter that eventually would come. With only a few seconds left in Round 8, Ali staggered Foreman with a combination of punches that he couldn’t get up from. Ali had won by KO. The Rumble in the Jungle would help solidify Muhammad Ali’s position as one of the best, if not the best, boxers of all time. George Foreman too would make history by returning to the ring and regaining his championship belt at the age of 45, twenty years after having lost it to Ali in 1974.

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