The Rumble in the Jungle was a historic boxing event that took place on October 30, 1974, in the Mai 20 Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). It pitted then world Heavyweight champion George Foreman against former world champion and challenger Muhammad Ali.
The event was one of Don King’s first ventures as a professional boxing promoter. He managed to get both Ali and Foreman to sign separate contracts saying they would fight for him if he could get $5 million to be their pay. However, King did not have the money. So he began looking for an outside country to sponsor the event. Zaire’s president Mobutu Sésé 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, Video Techniques Incorporated of New York and Don King Productions. Although King is most closely associated with the fight it is Hemdale and Video Techniques Inc., with whom King was a director, who were the official co-promoters of the fight.
In 1967, Ali had been suspended from boxing for three and a half years for his refusal to obey the draft and enter the Army. In 1970 he first regained a boxing license and promptly fought two comeback fights, against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena in an attempt to regain the heavyweight championship from Joe Frazier. The two met in 1971 in a bout dubbed the Fight of the Century, and Frazier prevailed, which sent Ali into fighting other contenders for years in an attempt at a new title shot.
Foreman had quickly risen from his gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics and into the top ranks of professional heavyweights. Foreman was greatly feared for his punching power, size, and sheer physical dominance. Still, Joe Frazier and his promoters believed that despite Foreman’s ever-growing list of knockouts and victories, he would be too slow and unrefined to stand up to Frazier’s relentless attacks. This would turn out to be a grave miscalculation, as Foreman won the championship in grand fashion by knocking Frazier down six times in two rounds before the bout was stopped. Foreman further solidified his hold over the heavyweight division after he demolished Ken Norton, who was the only man besides Frazier at that time to defeat Ali, also in two rounds. Though Ali had avenged his losses to both Norton and Frazier in the years since, the younger Foreman seemed an overwhelming favorite against the 32 year old Ali.
Foreman and Ali spent much of the summer of 1974 training in Zaire, and getting their bodies acclimatized to the weather in the tropical African country. The fight was originally set to happen in September, but Foreman was injured and cut during training, pushing the fight back to 30 October.
Preceding the fight, the three night long music festival Zaire 74 took place, including performances by James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, Bill Withers, and Manu Dibango as documented in the 2008 film Soul Power
Ali started the first round attacking Foreman with the unconventional (and provocative) ‘right-hand leads’. This was notable, as Ali was famed for his speed and technical skills, while Foreman’s raw power was his greatest strength; close range fighting would, it seemed, inevitably favour Foreman and leave too great a chance that Ali would be stunned by one or more of Foreman’s powerful hay-makers. Ali made use of the right-hand lead punch (striking with the right hand without setting up with the left) in a further effort to disorient Foreman. However, while this aggressive tactic may have surprised Foreman and it did allow Ali to hit him solidly a number of times, it failed to significantly hurt him. Before the end of the first round, Foreman caught up to Ali and began landing a few punches of his own. Foreman had also been trained to cut off the ring, preventing escape. 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. Almost right away in the second round, Ali started lying on the ropes and letting Foreman punch him, without any attempt to attack Foreman himself (a strategy Ali later dubbed the rope-a-dope).
As a result Foreman spent all 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 thrown by the champion. This loss of energy was the key to Ali’s “rope-a-dope” technique.
Ali seemed to do little to resist, except to occasionally shoot straight punches to the face of Foreman. (This quickly began taking a toll on Foreman’s face and it was soon visibly puffy.) When the two fighters were locked in clinches, however, Ali consistently out-wrestled Foreman, using tactics such as leaning on Foreman to make Foreman support Ali’s weight, or holding down Foreman’s head by pushing on his neck. The latter move is disorienting and can heighten the effect of punches, since it causes a greater snap in the neck when a fighter is hit in the head and therefore increases the chances of a knockout. Ali also constantly taunted Foreman in these clinches, telling Foreman to throw more and harder punches, and an enraged Foreman responded by doing just that.
After several rounds, this caused Foreman to begin tiring. As Foreman’s face became increasingly damaged by the occasional hard and fast jabs and crosses that Ali threw, his stamina looked to be draining from him. The effects were increasingly 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 much of that round. Although he would keep throwing punches and coming forward, after the fifth round Foreman was very tired and 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.”
Finally in the eighth round, Ali landed the final combination, a left hook that brought Foreman’s head up into position so Ali could smash him with a hard right straight to the face. Foreman staggered, then twirled across half the ring before landing on his back; he finally managed to get up, but it was too late.
The fight made clear just how great Ali was at taking a punch and also highlights the different, perhaps dangerous, change that Ali had made in his fighting style, by adopting the rope-a-dope, instead of his former style that emphasized movement. Film of the Zaire fight shows Foreman striking Ali with hundreds of thunderous blows, many blocked, but many getting through. Foreman mostly struck to the sides and kidney region, but also landed some vicious shots to the head, seemingly with no effect.
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. He regained the title for an unprecedented third time after beating Spinks in a rematch. However, his later comebacks proved less successful and he was beaten by Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Despite repeatedly calling Ali out, Foreman was unable to secure a rematch with the champion (despite Ali making title defenses against unheralded opponents such as Jean Pierre Coopman and Richard Dunne) and eventually retired after a loss to Jimmy Young in 1977. Ten years later he made an unlikely comeback, culminating in him regaining the world heavyweight championship at age 45 — the oldest man ever to win the title
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