Forty years ago, almost on this day, in a little-known city in Africa, was staged what’s perhaps the greatest bout ever in the history of professional boxing.
The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, as that big fight was christened, was between an underdog and an all-conquering phenomenon. Punches flew thick and fast, mostly from one end, with the challenger taking most of the blows on his body while leaning back on the ropes.
The trend continued till the seventh round, before the hunted turned the hunter in the eighth, one thunderous blow on the jaw ending the reign of George Edward Foreman. It was the American’s only defeat by knockout in his professional career.
No prizes for guessing the name of his conqueror on that fateful October 30, 1974, night in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. Yes, the great Mohamed Ali.
Foreman, currently in the Qatari capital as one of the keynote speakers in the third edition of Doha GOALS Forum, still has vivid memories of that fight.
“It may sound surprising, but I always felt afraid going into any bout. The only time I wasn’t afraid was when I faced Ali. I was not just confident, I was overconfident. I was told most of Ali’s knockout wins happened within four rounds. I wanted to knock him out in three rounds!
“But that night he was really focused, he was really dedicated to stand on his feet. He was ready for my punishment, he was ready for my blows, he was ready to bear the pain, and he was ready to wait. I kept hitting, he kept ducking. He was more experienced, he judged me out,” Foreman recalls.
Standing at 6 feet 3.5 inches, Foreman was always a fearsome presence in the ring. His raw power took him through his first 37 professional fights undefeated that helped him earn a shot at Joe Frazier in 1973, the reigning world heavyweight champion. Foreman was, like Ali in their fight, considered the underdog against Frazier, but he knocked him down six times to claim the heavyweight crown that January 22 night in Kingston, Jamaica.
Next was the legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ bout. Ali employed what is now become known as ‘rope-a-dope’ technique --leaning back against the ropes to deflect Foreman’s thunderous punches, before turning aggressor when his opponent tired.
“I have no qualms admitting that Ali just beat me fair and square that night,” Foreman adds. “I was always the aggressor. I was always considered a genuine puncher; I believed whenever I lay my hands on someone, I would knock him out. Till that night, no one ever stood up to me like that. He was prepared. He was ready to play the waiting game. He was the rope that night, I became the dope.”
Despite the on-ring rivalry, Foreman and Ali were great friends off it. “He’s the most fun guy I have ever met. He loves life. He’s not in the best of shape now, but even Parkinson’s will find it difficult to lay him down. He’s a fighter, and he’ll fight.”
Former world heavyweight champion George Foreman at
Doha GOALS Forum 2014 yesterday
He tried a shot at another title three years later, but suffered a shock loss at the hands of a little-known boxer called Jimmy Young. He retired soon after, became a non-denominational Christian minister and founded the George Foreman Youth and Community Center in Houston.
But community service and philanthropy soon exhausted his earnings, and 10 years later, at the age of 38, Foreman decided to make a comeback. “I suddenly realized I had no money. I was almost broke. Boxing was the only thing I knew, so it was only natural that was where I had to return,” he says.
The return was not as memorable. He lost more bouts than he won, but kept trudging along. Then, on November 5, 1994, clad in the same red trunks he wore during his bout against Ali, a 45-year-old Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champ in history. He retired a second and final time in 1997, with a professional record of 76 wins (68 knockouts) and five losses.
Despite being considered as one of the hardest punchers of all time, Foreman thinks it was John Henry Lewis who owned the best punches ever. “His was the best. He was lightening quick, he had the hardest punch,” he says.
For the participants and delegates at Doha GOALS, Foreman has a simple message: “I don’t want to be known as someone who left behind a big fortune, I would rather be known as someone who believed in sharing his fortune. That’s my philosophy in life. You don’t need to be rich or famous. Just look next door, be responsible to the person next to you. That will do.”
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