This week marks the 40th anniversary of surely one of the iconic events in modern sporting history (certainly of the 20th century), an epic battle between two of the greatest heavyweights that the world has ever seen, forever remembered as the "Rumble in the Jungle". The two larger than life men taking centre stage were the then undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman (who had been Olympic Champion in 1968 in Mexico City) and a former champion, the self professed "greatest of all time", Muhammad Ali.
The fight itself was eventually staged on October 30th, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire (the country now referred to as the Democratic Republic of Congo). The fight had been due to go ahead far earlier, but was postponed for a month due to Foreman picking up a cut over his eye during training while out in Zaire. To avoid re-opening the cut, Foreman was unable to spar while it healed, so his training was dramatically impacted and in all likelihood had a bearing on the ultimate outcome of the fight. We will never know what might have happened had the fight gone ahead as originally planned. During the month delay, Ali embarked on a personal tour of the country and added to his local popularity, while at the same time attempting to taunt his opponent.
As it was, Ali took the bout with a knockout decision as his opponent tired, after putting Foreman to the canvas near the end of round eight of the fifteen round scheduled fight (world title fights were reduced to twelve rounds in the 1980s). For much of the eight rounds Ali had employed the novel tactic of leaning on the ropes to conserve his energy and help to tire Foreman out, something he later referred to non too flatteringly as "rope-a-dope". The method confused Foreman who attempted to land body blows on Ali, as the contender made sure to protect his face. It has been contended subsequently that the ropes, which were much looser than they usually would be, had been deliberately set up that way by Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, with a view to gaining his man an advantage by being able to sway back away from the incoming shots.
The result elevated Ali once more to the heights of his profession and he would go on to be heavyweight champion three times in his boxing career in total. He never fought Foreman again, yet did grant re-matches with the other leading boxers of that era, Frasier and Norton. Famous for his rhythmical quotes as much as for his undoubted boxing skills, Ali is famously linked with being able to "float like a butterfly" and "sting like a bee". His health has deteriorated for many years with the diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease, but he is still held in high esteem across the world, with a particularly poignant moment being his appearance at the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 where he lit the Olympic cauldron (and was also part of the ceremony at London in 2012), where the frailty of his condition was evident to all who witnessed it, but also the determination that characterises the man. He had been Olympic Champion himself way back in 1960 in Rome, so clearly the Olympics figured strongly in his career and subsequent life. His deteriorating condition has not prevented him from being involved in several humanitarian and other ventures for the benefit of others less fortunate than himself, the mark of a great man both in and out of the ring.
Foreman is probably best known for his entrepreneurial talents these days, particularly relating to his grilling products that have sold over 100 million units worldwide (the sale of naming rights to the "George Foreman Grill" netted $138 million in 1999), but he is also an ordained Christian minister and author. At the time of the fight he was a beast of a man, with many onlookers secretly fearing for the safety of Ali when he stepped into the ring to fight him. He had claimed the world title a year earlier, when demolishing "Smokin' Joe Frazier" in two rounds, and had successfully defended his title twice before facing Ali in Zaire. Indeed, one of his title defences saw him defeat Ken Norton (also in quick time), the man who had beaten Ali on points a year before and broke Ali's jaw. Foreman retired in 1977 after losing to Jimmy Young, but remarkably decided to make a comeback in 1994 at the grand old age of 45, stunning Michael Moorer (then 27 years old) to regain the heavyweight crown and become the oldest such champion in history. The comeback lasted three years, as he retired for good from the ring in 1997. #Celebrities