The Rumble in the Jungle: 41 Years Ago Today

By Tony Calcara

Posted: October 30, 2015

“Am I the greatest of all times? Everybody stop talking now! Attention! I told you, all of my critics, I told you all I was the greatest of all time when I beat Sonny Liston. I told you today I’m still the greatest of all time. Never again make me the underdog until I’m about 50 years old. Then you might get me!”

Muhammad Ali had again done what so many believed he couldn’t. It was 41 years ago today that one of the most iconic matches of all time took place when Ali met George Foreman.

The setting was Kinshasa, Zaire. The date was October 30, 1974. The fight is now simply known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

Foreman, the Heavyweight champion of the world, was a machine. A man that was widely feared in the ring was like a force of nature who butchered world class opponents.

Now mentioned in the same intimidating breath as his idol, Sonny Liston, Foreman described himself as “surly and angry” and backed up every bit of it in the ring.

He wasn’t just beating opponents, he was demolishing them. Winning the title from Joe Frazier in devastating fashion, Foreman issued six knockdowns inside of two rounds. It was an annihilation.

With the wrecking ball still swinging, he then faced Ken Norton. Foreman smashed Norton with ease, putting him on the canvas three times in less than five minutes.

As Norton lay motionless on the mat, the champion peered down at ringside where Ali sat with Howard Cosell where they were calling the play by play for ABC.

Foreman sneered, “I’m going to kill you.” Fans at ringside booed wildly as he then repeated himself louder, “I’m going to kill you.”

The champion, now 25, had the world’s attention. Now he now had Ali’s. He obliterated two men who both went the distance with Ali and had beaten them soundly.

Boxing fans were left wondering how Ali could beat this force of nature who possessed such incredible sledgehammer strength. Others simply hoped he would simply survive.

The former champion showed no signs of fear having been there so many times before. He had been in the ring with the best and twice beaten Liston.

Foreman (40-0, 37 KOs), a 1968 Olympic gold medalist would make his third title defense against the No. 1 contender Ali (44-2, 31 KOs), the 1960 Olympic gold medalist and former Heavyweight champion.

The fight would be broadcast across the globe on closed-circuit television and was scheduled for approximately 4:00 am local time. Audiences in the United States would pack theaters to watch the bout live at roughly 10:00 pm, EST.

While Foreman lived and trained in seclusion, Ali was often visible, mingling with fans, writers and promoting the fight.

Ali told the world he had a new weapon, a new punch to deal with Foreman, “It’s called the ghetto-whopper. And the reason it’s called the ghetto-whopper is because it’s thrown in the ghetto at three o’clock in the morning.”

Foreman was then asked about fighting so early in the morning. “When I was growing up in Houston, I had a lot of fights at three and four in the morning.”

When questioned about talking in the ring, Foreman was blunt, “I never get a chance to talk much in the ring. By the time I begin to know a fellow, it’s over.”

Despite the bluster, Foreman was a 3-1 betting favorite on fight night and many gave Ali little chance of winning.

An estimated 60,000 fans jammed into the Stade du 20 Mai Stadium in the Congo to witness history in the making. The atmosphere was electric and had a festive feel as crowds roared and drums were beating well before the fighters entered the ring.

The early morning air was humid and thick as the temperature hovered around 80 degrees.

The crowd was partisan, cheering for Ali and booing Foreman. Chants could be heard throughout the night, “Ali! Bomaye! Ali! Bomaye!” Translation, Ali, kill him.

“The Colonel” Bob Sheridan was with David Frost, Joe Frazier and NFL great Jim Brown at ringside to call the action.

At the opening bell, Ali came right at the champion and fired a straight right hand that Foreman took on the forehead. He wanted Foreman to know that tonight was going to be different.

Ali vs. Foreman - Bettman - Corbis

In white trunks with black trim, an animated Ali bounced on his toes and fired his left jab. The champion, wearing red trunks with white and blue trim, pursued Ali like a cold assassin.

The early action was furious as Ali showed he was determined to give as good as he was getting. Sheridan was lively as the crowd roared, “The pace is tremendous in round one!”

If anything was clear after three minutes, Ali established he was not afraid. In between rounds, Ali pumped his fist in the air as the crowd chanted, “Ali! Ali! Ali!”

Early in the second round, Ali again came right at Foreman then mysteriously backed into the ropes. While Foreman whaled away, Ali leaned back against the ropes to avoid the onslaught. Ali would then stick his left jab into Foreman’s face and shoot quick, straight right hand leads that snapped the champions head back.

Every time Foreman swung and missed and Ali counted, the crowd reacted, “Ohhhh! Ahhhh!”

In Rounds 3 and 4, the champion continued to try to walk down Ali. The former champion was now talking to Foreman, whispering in his ear during clinches.

The flow of the fight was now becoming clearer, Foreman stalking, Ali establishing what we now know as the “rope-a-dope” as he used the ropes to duck and dodge the power of the champion. Brilliantly, as Foreman leaned in, he would pull him forward from the back of the head in an effort to tire him out.

As Ali continued to counter and chip away at Foreman, the champion’s face began to show signs of swelling around his left eye.

Foreman began landing heavily to the body in the fifth. Ali spent much of the round leaning against the ropes with his hands up trying to pot-shot the champion. It looked like he was taking the round off until only 30 seconds remained.

As Foreman wound up to fire a sweeping hook, Ali stepped in and unloaded a sizzling combination that rocked Foreman backwards.

Sheridan screamed over a crowd that was on its feet, “Good, crisp combination by Ali lands to the head! Backs up Foreman! Ali staggered Foreman! Foreman staggered! Foreman hit again! Foreman has been hit three or four times!”

Ali vs. Foreman - Bettman - Corbis 2

As the round ended and the camera view pulled back, fans at ringside remained on their feet–dancing, cheering and jumping up and down. They were witnessing what no one had ever seen as Foreman was taking punishment and seemed to have no answers.

Rounds 6 and 7 continued the ebb and flow of the action. Foreman looked to bomb away while Ali countered beautifully, fighting off the ropes, while continuing to whisper in the champion’s ear.

Foreman would later reveal that Ali continued to ask him, “Is that all you got, George?”

Entering the eighth round, Foreman again came right at Ali desperately trying to change the flow of the fight. The heavy artillery continued to miss its target as Ali’s defense was masterful.

With just 20 seconds remaining in the round, Ali maneuvered himself off the ropes and turned Foreman to his left. As the champion stood next to the ropes, Ali unleashed a furious assault and the champion crashed to the deck in heap.

Ali vs. Foreman - JAB Associated Press
Photo by JAB/Associated Press

The champion lay flat on his back.

As the crowd thundered, Sheridan shrieked, “Ali, a sneaky right hand! Foreman! Down! Three, Four, Five, Six, Foreman gets up to a knee… Seven… That’s it! The fight is stopped!”

Referee Zack Clayton halted the action and the fight ended at 2:58 of Round 8.

Chaos erupted in the ring as it quickly filled with the corners, reporters and police. The scene was one of utter pandemonium.

Many called him the greatest. This night solidified it.

RBRBoxing Magazine Issue 3 Deluxe Edition - August 2015

Tony Calcara

Tony Calcara

Rockhurst University Alumni. Catholic. Devout boxing junkie and enthusiast. Workout-a-holic. Fight film collector. Dad & Hubby.

Tony Calcara

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