Remembering 'Rumble in the Jungle,' Muhammad Ali's most famous fight
At 32, Ali was considered washed up in some circles, his greatest victories long behind him. His opponent, on the other hand, was the formidable 25-year-old George Foreman, who was far removed from his cuddly latter-day persona as a grill pitchman.
The so-called “Rumble in the Jungle,” which took place in the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) on October 30, 1974, was one of the most heavily-hyped sporting events of all time — thanks to the unique talents of promoter Don King. Both fighters stood to make millions no matter what the result, although the undisputed heavyweight title was also at stake.
The fight was preceded by an elaborate music festival, which featured an incredible line-up including the likes of James Brown, The Spinners, Bill Withers and B.B. King.
Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the big bout, Ali did his best to psych out his opponent with his familiar put-downs and claims that his finesse in the ring would trump Foreman’s brute force.
Once the fight began, it initially looked like Ali’s colorful boasting was all for naught. Foreman punished Ali with a relentless stream of punches in round after round. And still Ali remained upright throughout, taunting Foreman with digs like, “They told me you could punch, George!”
It was all part of a strategy devised by Ali, later christened “rope-a-dope,” to induce Foreman to wear himself early through punching. In the eighth round, as Foreman began to look visibly tired, Ali came alive and unleashed a flurry of jabs on the heavily favored reigning champ.
To chants of “Ali boma ye” (which translates to “Ali kill him” — the African crowd favored Ali because of his reputation as anti-war rebel in the U.S.), the master knocked out the upstart and, in one of the most shocking upsets in the history of boxing, regained his title.
Ali’s victory kick-started the second half of his career, which saw him lose and regain his heavyweight title for historic a third time. He would have other memorable fights before retiring for good in 1981, but, for most Ali fans, his triumph in “The Rumble in the Jungle” is what cemented his status as a cultural icon and inspiration for generations of people who strive to overcome the doubters and beat the odds.