By Paul Upham: Tuesday October 30, 2001 marks the 27th anniversary of one of the sports most memorable and significant fights in heavyweight history. The “Rumble in the Jungle”, so aptly titled by Don King in his first major promotion in Kinshasa, Zaire, pitted the 32 year-old former world champion Muhammad Ali against a man who was seen as almost indestructible, 25 year-old heavyweight king George Foreman.
There were many people who did not want this fight to go ahead such was the fear that Ali would be seriously hurt by the menacing wall of power who had so brutally dispatched Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in two rounds apiece.
This was not the loving and funny Foreman that we see now on television, endorsing his grilling machine and who laughs at himself along with us. This was a terrifying monster that prompted long time Ali friend and legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell to publicly express his fear for Ali’s safety.
Just as he had been painted as the long shot against Sonny Liston in his first world title fight in February 1964, Ali was again considered an extreme outsider to regain the world heavyweight championship that had been stripped from him in 1967.
After losses to Joe Frazier in 1971 and having his jaw broken in March 1973 by Ken Norton, there were few who believed that Ali could withstand Foreman’s punishing blows.
Before the fight Ali reassured those around him that he would be too fast and too slick for Foreman and we will probably never know whether this was ever his plan or that he always intended to wear down the giant Foreman by weathering his initial onslaught until he could punch no more.
Round after round Ali lay on the ropes and took blow after blow from Foreman in the outdoor arena in front of thousands of locals at 4am in the morning.
As the rounds wore on, Foreman became more and more tired until the eighth when Ali, seeing Foreman’s arms dropping lower and lower, exploded with his own right hand that dropped the now weary Foreman who was unable to beat the referee’s count.
Although Ali would go onto his most unbelievable physical effort in 1975 in his third fight with Joe Frazier in “The Thriller in Manilla”, this win over Foreman established Ali as the ultimate fighter who could change his style and out-think an opponent who had advantages in every physical area.
Ali would carry on as champion until 1978, while this loss was the beginning of an unbelievable journey for Foreman who would unexpectedly retire in 1977 after a loss to Jimmy Young at the age of 28. He would move out of the spotlight for 10 years and become a church minister before launching a comeback in 1987 to raise funds for his cause.
Foreman’s journey was complete in November 1994 when he became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title at the age of 45 against Michael Moorer, regaining it an amazing twenty years after his loss to Ali.
In many ways, this fight changed the careers of both Ali and Foreman for different reasons. Ali would go on to further acclaim to be considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, while this was the starting point towards the reincarnation of George Foreman from the snarling monster of 1974 to the great American hero of 1994.
Through the brilliant 1997 Academy Award winning documentary, “When We Were Kings”, we now have a deeper insight into what really went on during those weeks in Africa in 1974, where Ali not only regained his world heavyweight title, but showed the world he truly was “The Greatest”.