Muham­mad Ali, George Fore­man in the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle, a fight so epic it needed a name

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

Muham­mad Ali gave it one, and then gave box­ing one of its most mem­o­rable mo­ments when he stopped the fear­some George Fore­man to re­cap­ture the heavy­weight ti­tle in the im­pov­er­ished African na­tion of Zaire.

It was the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle, and it’s still a big part of the Ali lore to­day. Forty years have passed since the two men met just be­fore dawn on Oct. 30, 1974 to earn $5 mil­lion put up by dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko, but time has done noth­ing to di­min­ish its place in box­ing his­tory.

Fore­man was the brood­ing heavy­weight cham­pion who de­stroyed Joe Fra­zier and Ken Nor­ton with­out break­ing a sweat. Ali was, well, Ali. “You think the world was shocked when Nixon re­signed,” Ali crowed be­fore the fight. “Wait till I whup George Fore­man’s be­hind.”

Few be­lieved the bom­bas­tic Ali, whose ora­tor­i­cal skills at the time seemed bet­ter than his box­ing skills. He wasn’t the same fighter who was forced into ex­ile for re­fus­ing the draft, and many won­dered why he had even agreed to the fight. “Peo­ple were pray­ing be­fore the fight that Ali doesn’t get killed,” said Bill Ca­plan, who was Fore­man’s pub­lic re­la­tions man in Zaire. “No one thought Ali had a chance, and that in­cluded George.”

But Ali turned it into a home match, em­brac­ing Zaire from the mo­ment his plane touched down at the Kin­shasa air­port, where thou­sands were wait­ing for his ar­rival. Be­fore speak­ing, he asked his right­hand man, Gene Kil­roy, what the peo­ple of Zaire hated most.

“I told him white peo­ple. He said, ‘I can’t tell them George Fore­man is white,’” Kil­roy re­called. “Then I said, ‘They don’t like the Bel­gians, who used to rule Zaire.’”

Ali stepped out on the tar­mac and yelled out: “George Fore­man’s a Bel­gian!”

The crowd erupted, chant­ing “Ali boma ye, Ali boma ye (Ali, kill him).”

Fore­man’s ar­rival also set the tone for his African ad­ven­ture. He got off the plane a day later with his dog, a Ger­man Shep­herd he brought to keep him company for a trip he didn’t re­ally want to make. But the crowd wait­ing for his ar­rival wasn’t quite as wel­com­ing as they were for Ali. “The dog wound up be­ing trou­ble,” Ca­plan said, “be­cause that’s what Bel­gians used to use on the peo­ple to keep or­der.”

If Fore­man was mis­er­able in Africa right from the start, it got worse when he was cut days be­fore the fight and it was post­poned six weeks. Fore­man wanted to go to Paris to re­cu­per­ate and train, but the fear was that if he left he wouldn’t come back. Kil­roy, mean­while, sug­gested to Zaire of­fi­cials they might want to con­fis­cate pass­ports to keep him there.

The day be­fore the fight, Fore­man and Ali made sep­a­rate trips to the pres­i­den­tial palace to pay homage to Mobutu, the bru­tal dic­ta­tor who wanted to put his coun­try (now the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo) on the world map. The fight would fi­nally un­fold in the steamy dark­ness of equa­to­rial Africa at 4 a.m., with ma­chine­gun-car­ry­ing sol­diers watch­ing the crowd from ring­side and Joe Fra­zier among the in­ter­ested spec­ta­tors.

Mob­uto was a no-show, but if any­one had to be re­minded who was in charge, a huge por­trait of the dic­ta­tor tow­ered over the coun­try’s main soc­cer sta­dium.

Ali’s plan was to come out and hit Fore­man with a hard shot to let him know he was there to fight, not run. He landed it and a flurry of quick right leads, but by the end of the round Fore­man was land­ing some pow­er­ful punches of his own that forced Ali to the ropes. Much to the dis­may of his cor­ner, Ali stayed on the ropes, al­low­ing Fore­man to throw loop­ing punches that seemed to be land­ing. Ali would later call it the “rope-a-dope” strat­egy, which would later seem even more bril­liant be­cause it was con­ceived on the fly.

At ring­side after the end of the sec­ond round, Ca­plan saw his fighter was al­ready winded. He turned to Time mag­a­zine pho­tog­ra­pher Ken Re­gan and said: “Ken, we’re go­ing to blow this fight.”

In the fi­nal seconds of the fifth round, Ali hit Fore­man with a se­ries of punches that seemed to sap what­ever power Fore­man might have still had on his shots. Fi­nally, late in the eighth round he landed a com­bi­na­tion with a fi­nal right hand that seemed to crum­ple Fore­man in pieces. As the cham­pion was go­ing down, Ali could have landed one more punch, but he pulled back.

“He had mercy on me,” Fore­man said re­cently. “Would I have done the same for him at that time? No.”

At ring­side, long­time As­so­ci­ated Press box­ing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. was dic­tat­ing the ac­tion back to an ed­i­tor in New York, hop­ing some­one was on the other end of the line. The fight had barely ended when a tor­ren­tial rain­storm flooded the sta­dium and the dress­ing rooms of both fight­ers.

“I think it was one of the top-10 up­sets in box­ing,” Schuyler said. “Fore­man was Sonny Lis­ton all over again. A young Ali beat Sonny Lis­ton and an old Ali beat Sonny Lis­ton.”

Ali would go on to win another fight with a name, the Thrilla in Manila, the next year against Fra­zier, but the punches ended up tak­ing a ter­ri­ble toll. Fore­man, mean­while, would re­tire a few fights later only to re­turn to box­ing after 20 years and be­come the old­est man to win the heavy­weight ti­tle.

And forty years later, the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle still lives up to its name.

Tim Dahlberg is a na­tional sports colum­nist for The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Oc­to­ber 30, 1974 file photo of Muham­mad Ali as he watches George Fore­man head for the can­vas after be­ing knocked out in the eighth round of their match in

Kin­shasa, Zaire. (AP)

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