The Rumble in the Jungle

From Academic Kids

The Rumble in The Jungle was a historic boxing event that took place on October 30, 1974, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then known as Zaire. It pitted then world Heavyweight champion George Foreman against former world champion and that time challenger Muhammad Ali, who was looking to become the second fighter ever, after Floyd Patterson, to recover the world's Heavyweight crown.

The event was Don King's first venture as a professional boxing promoter. He looked for an outside country to stage this large event, and Zaire was in need of a positive image in the eyes of the world, so Zaire's president Mobutu asked for the fight to be held there.

Foreman and Ali spent much of the summer of 1974 training in Zaire, and getting their bodies used to the weather in the tropical African country. Ali also spent his time there endearing himself to Zaire's citizens. Because of that, many of them could be heard during the fight saying the phrase Ali bomaye!, which translates to English as Ali kill him!.

The fight was originally set to happen in September, but Foreman got injured during training, pushing the fight back off to October.

With Hollywood stars and world boxing champions such as Ken Norton and Joe Frazier present, the fight started at 5 am Kinshasa time, to accommodate United States viewers. Bob Sheridan was the commentator, with David Frost occasionally interviewing Jim Brown and Joe Frazier at ringside. Brown, who had predicted Ali would be knocked out, is increasingly wowed by Ali's performance, calling him "unreal". Frazier seems to reluctantly admit the same more towards round eight, though he puts Foreman ahead through most of the early rounds. Towards the end of the fight, Frazier remarks to Frost, "George is fightin' stupid."

Ali had told his trainer, Angelo Dundee, and his fans, that he had a secret plan for Foreman. Ali started laying on the ropes and letting Foreman punch him with everything Foreman had. Dundee asked Ali in his corner if he wanted to commit suicide. Frost jokes that he does not quite understand a fighting style that involves staying still and letting your opponent punch you. Ali had introduced, that way, his Rope-a-Dope fighting style, where he just stood on the ropes and allowed his opponents to punch him, getting them tired while Ali hoped that he would be in sufficient condition after that ordeal to exploit his opponent's weakness.

The Rumble

Ali seems to rely on his near inhumanly fast reactions to Foreman's blows. Many times during the fight, one can see Ali's head suddenly moving out of the way a microsecond before Foreman's punch makes its impact. Foreman does bean him several times, but even the worst shots are lessened by Ali's "movement with" the direction of the punches. Ali's tactic is to constantly anticipate, to touch gloves with Foreman, appear loose but be ready, and lean (very) far back on the ropes to avoid some of the bomblike hooks that Foreman releases. All the while, Ali shoots generally straight punches to the face, and occasional jabs, increasingly puffing up Foreman's face and dazing him. Ali holds Foreman's head many times, in a bid to control the fight.

The timing of the match is completely within Ali's control. He is a fine example of a boxer who wins by forcing the flow of the fight. His holding of Foreman forces a rhythm on the match that favors Ali. Again, a lighting fast, hard punch, damages Foreman and Ali holds. Foreman goes on the attack, and Ali leans and evades, or simply lets Foreman pound on his body (apparently ineffectually) so that Foreman will tire himself out. The speed of Ali's own attack is something to behold. His fists become a blur, and Foreman has already been punched before he can think of blocking Ali's fist. This speed and the generally perplexing tactics of Ali confuse Foreman and never allow him to find his feet.

Eventually, Foreman goes into autopilot, becoming increasingly tired and simply trying, it seems, to punch Ali down bit by bit. As Foreman's face becomes increasingly damaged, it becomes clear that it is only a matter of time until Ali lands the final combo, a rock-hard straight to the face that staggers Foreman, who twirls across half the ring before landing on his back and looking like his alarm clock just went off. Zack Clayton counted him out a bit too quickly, but Foreman's condition was by any perspective, bad.

Ali, conversely, barely looked like he had fought. The endless body shots of Foreman appeared to have no effect, or he hid the effect wonderfully. Ali did not dance, did not bounce around the ring much after round two, and in a post-fight interview with Frost he claims it was intentional, keeping with the rope-leaning style. Ali states that he was not tired at all by the time he knocked Foreman out.

Ali lands virtually no punches to the body, just the face and head; Foreman seems to keep trying to set up Ali for the Big Punch (Sheridan reminds viewers that Foreman is a "one punch artist") but never succeeds, and while waiting and pursuing Ali through dogged punching, Ali administers his considered, very fast, very hard head shots. It would have been interesting, one imagines, to see what would have happened if Foreman had simply poured out all his gas, in a flurry of punches, to weaken Ali's head, and not have been so determined to knock him out with one or two big punches. Especially in earlier rounds, say round three, when it was increasingly apparent that Foreman's approach was not working, it would have been interesting to see a change of tactics. In the light of Ali's brilliance, Foreman was not nearly nimble enough.


Foreman later claimed that Ali's trainers had loosened up the ropes to benefit Ali, but he apologized for those comments and has admitted to saying them without any base and in a moment where he was feeling bad because he lost the fight. Having said this, in Norman Mailer's account of the match (described in the book The Fight), he describes quite explicitly that a member of Ali's camp had loosened the ropes in full view of the audience.

Ali and Foreman have, despite their famous religious differences, become good friends in the years after the fight. They also appear together in the Champions Forever series of video documentaries and games, and both are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

The events before and during this bout are depicted in the Academy Award winning documentary, When We Were Kings. The biographical movie Ali (2002) depicts this fight as the film's climax. In addition Norman Mailer wrote a book (The Fight) describing the events, and placing them within the context of his views of black American culture.

Johnny Wakelin wrote a song about this match called In Zaire.

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