As we pass what would’ve been Muhammad Ali’s 76th birthday, fans often look back at the greatness in Ali’s career. On this edition of Throwback Thursday, we’ll take a look at Ali’s road back to the title in the The Rumble in the Jungle.
Ali was coming off a win against his long-time rival, Joe Frazier. Despite being the least remembered bout of their trilogy, Ali managed to take home an unanimous decision and set up a title clash with the imposing George Foreman. As some fans began to wonder if Ali’s skills were not as sharp as they once were, Foreman looked every bit the part of an unstoppable force. He’d won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games and had amassed an impressive 40-0 professional record. Further solidifying his spot as the favorite heading into the contest with Ali, Foreman was fresh off a second-round TKO stoppage of Ken Norton, the only other man besides Frazier who had defeated Ali at that point.
The bout began with Ali throwing lead right hand punches which appeared to put Foreman off his game. However, as the first round came to a close, it was Foreman who began to find his range. Following the start of the contest, Ali switched tactics and began to employ his famous “rope-a-dope” strategy on the heavy handed Foreman. Ali managed to avoid taking serious damage as he allowed Foreman to tire himself out through the contest. The challenger managed to land a series of straight punches that sliced through the defense of an increasingly exhausted Foreman.
“I was over-confident when I fought him,” Foreman told ShortList.com. “I’d gone through fighters who’d beaten him, such as Joe Frazier and Kenny Norton. All I thought was, ‘Should I be merciful or not?’ I thought he was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: ‘That all you got, George?’ I realized that this ain’t what I thought it was.”
The fight would come to a climactic finish as Ali staggered Foreman with a series of punches. Foreman would collapse to the canvas and while Foreman would stand up, the referee called a stop to the action. “The Rumble in the Jungle” became a culutural event with a three day festival preceding it and a bevy of musical acts such as BB King and James Brown all taking part in it. The fight showcases the many reasons Ali has become such a fixture in the world of combat sports. He was a larger than life figrue both as a boxer and as a cultural icon.