Thursday, October 30, 2008

History Made, The Rumble in the Jungle

On this day (October 30), in 1974, one of the greatest fights in boxing history took place. The "Rumble in the Jungle."

The combatants, George Foreman, and Muhammad Ali had been on a collision course for several years. Foreman, a huge heavyweight (for the time), was seemingly unbeatable, and Ali, it seemed, was a shot fighter. This was the heyday, no golden era of heavyweight boxing. In combat sports, boxing was king. MMA was known by other names and hidden in the confines of Brazil, or, for you purists, outside the competitive arena. No other athlete capture the imagination of a young boy like the "strongest man in the world," the heavyweight champion. In those days, long since gone, there was still a unified, linear title of the big man's division that had been unbroken for over a hundred years.

The chain was weak and unsteady, to be sure, since Ali had been forced to relinquish his throne for his stance on serving in the military during the era of the Vietnam buildup and the draft. For his impertinence, "the Greatest" was forced to sit on the sidelines during the peak of his skills and watch as one after another of his contemporaries occupied his throne.

Along came George Foreman, the product of a tough upbringing on the streets, and brushes with the law, who was saved by the sport of boxing. He channeled his massive size and strength into the sport of boxing, probably saving himself from death or imprisonment, and won Olympic glory and a gold medal, then climbed the ranks of heavyweights destroying almost everyone in his path. At a professional record of 32-0, almost all knockouts, he battered the great Joe Frazier, undisputed heavyweight champ, for two rounds, knocking him down five times, then out on his sixth trip to the canvas. Watch.

In 1970, after serving a three-year suspension, Ali attempted to come back and regain what had been taken from him, a loss not suffered in the ring, but in the politics of the time. The comeback was derailed by none other than the same Joe Frazier in 1971, forcing Ali to work his way up again, until he finally defeated Frazier in their rematch, setting up a bout with the champ, big George Foreman.

The pre-fight storyline probably matched any spectacle before, or since, in terms of hype. The fight was the first promotion of ex-con, and convicted murderer Don King, and was held in the kingdom of Zaire in Africa. In the days of Afros and dashikis, Black Pride and the Black Panthers, each tried to outdo the others in his embrace of all things African, but the Africans only embraced Ali. Foreman, a reclusive introvert didn't connect with the crowds and masses that the fighters attracted in the buildup, but Ali, being Ali, soaked it up. There were rumors and furors about rumors of different happenings leading up to the fight, but the matchmakers had Ali as a heavy underdog, and few gave him a chance against the unbeatable power of Foreman.

The fight itself was probably more shocking than anything else in boxing since the young Cassius Clay had shocked the world by beating the destroyer, Sonny Liston. Ali, in the first round, tried his signature moving and boxing, but was overwhelmed by the power of Foreman, and thereafter adopted what was to be his new trademark tactic, the "rope-a-dope," laying on the top ropes of the ring, covering up, but slipping and leaning to avoid ever taking a hard shot. Foreman, for his part, tried throwing everything he had at the dormant and passive Ali, pounding body and head shots to a man who rarely punched back. Until...

After several rounds of missing and swinging with everything he had, Foreman slowed, and his punches had little steam. Finally, in the eighth round... Watch.

It was the beginning of the second half of Ali's career, but would mark the real end of his "move like a butterfly, sting like a bee" beginnings, and he would employ the rope tactic for much of the remainder of his career. Foreman, on the other hand, was shocked and demoralized, and was never the same fighter, losing to men he would have dominated before, then retiring after a tough fight against Jimmy Young, he experienced a vision, and went into ministry.

To me, that fight, along with a few others from the era, represented a peak for the sport of boxing. It was epic in the stories surrounding it, the times in which it was set, and the unlikely victory of Ali.

See also:

ESPN, Rumble in the Jungle: Part I
TDA The Frazier Left Hook Unleashed
TDA A good big man...
TDA Legends, a nice collage - video
TDA Everything will work sometime
TDA Freak knockout!

1 comment:

Colin Wee said...

Like the tie-in with the Rocky soundtrack. IN fact I think it was Rocky 3 that had Rocky against Mr T using a similar tactic on the ropes ...