The 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman is probably the most famous and most depicted of all heavyweight title bouts ever. One reason for this fascination might be that it was one of the most dramatic heavyweight bouts of all times. The features of the two opponents couldnít have been more different - on the one side the patriotic Foreman who had waved the Star Spangled Banner after winning the Olympics in 1968. On the other side the inconvenient black hero Ali, who had enraged the White establishment with his claim for conscientious objector status and his converting to Islam. The fight in Zaire and its surrounding occurences were even processed to a whole novel ("The Fight" by Norman Mailer, first published in 1975). But letís tell the story chronologically.
By mid-1974, Muhammad Ali had defeated all top-heavyweights (including rematches against Ken Norton and Joe Frazier) and was ready to snatch at the title again. In case of success, he would be the first boxer after Floyd Patterson to break the ancient rule of the heavyweight scene that says "They never come back".
The only requirement of Aliís manager Herbert Muhammad was a gross income of five million dollars for his boxer - a previously unheard-of sum. Ex-con Don King, who hadnít promoted a bout before, promised to make the impossible possible and scare up the money.
With the help of Video Techniques, King convinced Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of Zaire, to provide most of the ten million (five million each for Ali and Foreman). A british company paid the rest.
Mobutu wanted to spread his countryís name all over the world. Zaire had been called Belgian-Congo until 1960 when the Belgian occupiers left Africa. The former name of Kinshasa, inhabitated in 1974 by 1.5 million people, had been Leopoldsville. Mobutu was a stiff ruler. He had locked up three-hundred criminals in the basement of the stadium whereupon he ordered to kill fifty randomly selected and free the rest to spread news of the executions among the other criminals of Kinshasa. As a result, Zaire's crime rate was lower than ever.
Back to boxing. Foreman was the expertsí favorite. He had won his last eight bouts unexceptionally by knockout in the first two rounds (amongst his deplorable foes had been Joe Frazier and Ken Norton whom Ali wasnít able to knock out or down in six bouts) and 37 of his 40 professional bouts. His strength was enormous and after he had punched the heavy bag for a couple of rounds, there was a huge bump in it - once he had even knocked it out of the affixture!
Ali prepared in his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, and traveled to Africa two weeks before the fight to have enough time to acclimatize. He chose a house forty miles outside the centre of Kinshasa on a state property whereas Foreman and his entourage checked into the Inter-Continental in central Kinshasa. Foreman didnít like having much people around (he even had German sheperd police dogs to keep uninvited visitors away). Ali, to the contrary, used every occasion to gain the Africansí sympathies. Wherever he went, there was a big crowd surrounding him.
Eight days prior to the bout, Foreman was cut above the eye and the fight had to be delayed. It was rescheduled for October 30. After initial perplexity and helplessness, Ali decided to stay in Zaire and so did Foreman. There were rumors that Mobutu had forbidden them to leave the country.
Foremanís cut healed and the two boxers entered the ring in the Stadium of the 20th May at 4 a.m. to suit the closed-circuit viewers in the USA. The renovated stadium had originally been a present of Mobutu to his people. Ali weighed 216 pounds, five pounds lighter than his foe.
Before the first round begins, Ali conducts the audience that frenetically chants "Ali, boma ye!" which means "Ali, kill him!".
In the first round Ali lands some good combinations most of whom he starts with a right-hand lead, a strategy that a boxer normally uses in a later stage of a fight when the opponent is tired and not concentrated any more. However, the tactic works - Foreman gets hit. Additionally, Ali speaks to his foe during the entire fight - "That didnít hurt" or "Is that all you can, sucker?". Foreman delivers some blows to Aliís body.
In round two, Foreman chases Ali, cuts the ring skillfully and forces the contender into the corners. Ali decides to change his strategy completely. From now on, he stays at the ropes, leans way back and invites Foreman to punch his body again and again. In the last seconds of this round, however, Ali has a furious comeback and shakes the stunned Foreman with rapid blows.
Round three is Aliís who tucks away Foremanís heavy blows to the body to hit back with quick combinations. At the end of this round, Foreman staggers towards his corner.
After both boxers have used the fourth round to rest from the exertions of the first nine minutes, Foreman comes out to the fifth with the intention to knock Ali out. He searchs for an opening in Aliís defense while working on his belly and kidneys. In the last forty seconds, however, Ali is back again and brings the defenseless Foreman on the edge of a knockout. Rapid as lightning the straights hail into Foremanís face - the gong rescues him.
Rounds six and seven are slow again - Foreman tries to get through Aliís guard without success.
In the last minute of round eight, Ali gathers all his left strength and courage and launches the final attack. He hits Foreman with a right, leaves the ropes and Foreman wobbles around with his hands down. Ali recieves him with two rights and then places the decisive combination. Norman Mailer:
"Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in a glove drove into the middle of Foremanís mind, the best punch of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career. Foremanís arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of a plane."
Foreman goes down and takes the count. The audience goes crazy. Muhammad Ali has become heavyweight champion of the world for the second time in an incredibly exciting manner!
Minutes after the fight, heaven opens its penstock. Long awaited torrential thunderstorms flood the ring. Would this have happened an hour earlier, the bout could not have taken place...
vs. Sonny Liston (I) - vs. Sonny Liston (II) - vs. Joe Frazier (I) - vs. George Foreman - vs. Joe Frazier (III)