Today marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ heavyweight clash between ‘The Greatest’ Muhammad Ali and the most formidable puncher of his time, George Foreman.
Taking place in Kinshasa on October 30, 1974, the fight build-up and tactical battle that ensued between two legends of the sport is forever etched in the memory of boxing fans around the world.
Ali, who was the wrong end of 32 at the time and had already lost twice, went into the fight in the unusual position of being the underdog to overthrow heavy-handed Foreman, a fresh-faced 25 year-old with a 40-0, 37 KO fight record. WBA and WBC belt holder Foreman had already bludgeoned 21 of his opponents in the first two rounds, including Ken Norton and Joe Frazier in his last three fights, both of whom were responsible for the only losses Ali had suffered thus far.
Throughout training camp in Zaire, Ali used his trademark personality to gain popularity with the fans, whilst most turned against Foreman due to his hard exterior – coupled with the air of confidence that came with his standout record. With chants of ‘Ali Bomaye’ (Ali kill him) ringing in his ears as he prepared for the toughest test of his life, the former heavyweight title holder promised he would dance and bamboozle the slower Foreman to regain his position at the top.
The 1960 Olympic gold medallist had been without his beloved title for some seven years due to his ban for the sport not enlisting in the US Army, although many thought 1968 Olympic champion Foreman would be too much for an aging Ali to deal with.
In an early shock to all those watching, Ali used the rarely-seen ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics in an attempt to make Foreman gas out, which meant rounds of punishment would have to be endured in order for Muhammad to prevail. After six rounds of pummelling the challenger against the ropes, Foreman was visibly tiring from his lack of a Plan B and Ali, along with the baying crowd, could sense that a change in the tide was near.
In the seventh, Ali was having much more success as Foreman’s tank neared empty, and in a stunning eighth round, the unthinkable happened as blows reigned down on the champion from all angles. Too exhausted to fight back, Foreman could no longer keep his balance as the pin-point punches from Ali took their toll, and in a sweeping move, the 6ft 3ins brute fell to the canvas to almighty gasps around the Tata Raphael Stadium.
Foreman had nothing left as Zach Clayton counted him out with just two seconds left in round eight and Ali was once again crowned heavyweight king in a performance that further enhanced his considerable legacy in the sport. To pull off the victory in the way he did, against the odds and using the only know-how he could to be able to come out on top, Ali had done the impossible in executing his gameplan to perfection.
The fight remains something that you are unable to switch off if you stumble upon it when flicking through the channels, and even though you know the outcome, you still can’t help but get caught up in the drama of it.
Four decades passing have done nothing to diminish the feelings you get when embroiled in a battle of wills between two of the most iconic professionals to ever grace the ring, as everytime you witness Ali versus Foreman, it always feels like the first time.
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