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Muhammad Ali outfought, outwitted and outlasted George Foreman in a classic upset

03
Jun

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the January 1975 issue of The Ring Magazine.

BY NAT LOUBET

KINSHASA, ZAIRE – Muhammad Ali became the second man in ring history to regain the heavyweight championship of the world. The first was Floyd Patterson, who took his title back from Ingemar Johansson in 1960.

The clock reached 2:58 of the eighth round when a crashing left hook followed by a solid right cross dumped George Foreman to the canvas where he lay on his back. As the count reached four he rolled over and began a slow rise to his feet. He looked toward [trainer] Dick Sadler in his corner, got to one knee, and, as the 10-count was made by Zack Clayton, Foreman made an effort to beat the final second. He just lost out and so his title changes hands and once again Ali stands on the thrown he boasted to all who would listen that he would occupy after the fight.

Clayton was the first black man to referee a world heavyweight championship fight. His first active refereeing job was the fourth Walcott-Charles meeting in June 5, 1952. This was Clayton’s third time acting as an arbiter in a world heavyweight title contest.

Clayton added to his status as a referee in as much as some scribes felt Zack might be swayed emotionally to one side or the other. This he emphatically did not do, providing one of the better refereeing jobs accomplished by any third man in a world title fight.

January 1975 issue.

The bout could have been a hard one of referee since from the opening bell it was a “Holy War” with Foreman the aggressor, jumping out to meet Ali in the challenger’s corner.

The round by round happenings followed a pattern. Ali would meet the charging Foreman with flicking lefts, many of which missed, until Foreman, as had been expected, broke through Ali’s guard, bending the challenger back across the ropes, landing solid, punishing blows that landed on Ali’s rib cage with maddening regularity.

Weight didn’t play much of a part in the proceedings, Ali at 216 ½, a good weight for him, was in better shape than he has been since he came back to boxing in 1970.

Foreman, who by his own statement in a press conference here weighed 250 pounds in August, tipped the scales at 220, a good fighting weight for the champion.

Immediately before the contest, various sections of the crowd took up the chant that blended into a symphony of several phrases, competing and merging.

The Foreman camp, “Oh yeah, George Foreman, oh yeah,” and the Ali partisans much louder in voice and number, overpowering to the point where one’s hair began to prickle, “Ali-bomaye.”

Ali was the country’s hero. Ask any “citizen” and he will respond immediately, “Ali – my man.” Very few dissident voices were heard and practically all were ready to accept Foreman were he to win.

A fanfare of music indigenous to Africa, including the Zaire national anthem, heralded the entrance of Muhammad Ali, right hand extended about his head. He led his own cheer.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, another fanfare, more cheers, with the Ali and Foreman partisans competing. Instructions were given by referee Clayton, and the stage was set.

In rounds one and two the writer had Foreman eking out a narrow advantage. In the first round, it was very fast action for heavyweights. The challenger slid away from Foreman who took repeated jabs to the face in order to inside the twisting, sliding Ali, who seemed content to allow George the opportunity to whale away to his body.

Ali and Foreman together in March 1973. Photo from The Ring archive.

Most of the writers in Kinshasa, regardless of their thoughts on the outcome of the bout, felt that the fight would be a case of Ali, up on his toes, ever dancing away, sticking and moving, stinging like a bee and running like a gazelle.

On the other hand, the fight shaped up as one in which Foreman would be the devastating puncher and the scales of age might well decide the winner with Foreman at age 26 and Ali at 32, and Ali having a 1 ½ inch reach advantage to be contended with. The odds ended up 3-1 in Foreman’s favor.

The consensus was that Ali would slow down after five rounds or so of body punching by Foreman and then then would be caught up with and quickly destroyed. It was felt that if Ali could continue to stay away from Foreman then the longer the fight progressed the challenger would be gaining ground since Foreman had gone only three rounds in his previous title defenses, a one-round knockout over Jose Roman in Tokyo in 1973 and his two-round icing of Ken Norton in Caracas earlier this year.

Angelo Dundee has confided to a few that his plan was not to have Ali run but have him use the ropes, slide along them, moving just enough to avoid taking too much punishment, allowing Foreman to tire himself out.

The obvious danger to such a plan was that Foreman would use the good left jab that he exhibited in training and then pin Ali, not allowing the sliding movement until Muhammad was blasted out of the 20th of May Stadium, which holds about 80,000 when sandwiched in like the New York subway at rush hour.

There were about 62,000 hardy souls who paid to see the fight. They had erected an 80-foot roof to house us and television in case of rain. It was good they did have this foresight because the rain came down in sheets at one brief period during the night. Those fans in the stands seemed to take it with good humor.

The Dundee plan almost backfired as it looked bad for Ali in those first two rounds. However, in the third session Foreman leaped across the 19-foot ring (the normal size is 20) only to meet an Ali throwing leather as though his life depended on it.

Foreman, for one of the few times in the contest, used his left jab, but was out-punched two to one as Ali moved from side to side. Foreman worked on Ali’s body, then changed direction, banging to Ali’s head, but it was the challenger who scored more efficiently in this round.

Both fighters had words to say. Foreman was on the receiving end of Ali’s sharp tongue. “Come on boy, show me something.” Foreman returned the taunt through a face that was beginning to swell on the left cheekbone. He had an abrasion on his forehead, and eyes that already had a tired look in them.

Ali’s left jabs were his margin and the fight was becoming a close affair.

Ali (right) on the attack against Foreman. Photo by AFP/ Getty Images

In the later rounds and right up to the knockout, Ali’s corner men, Drew “Bundini” Brown, Dundee and, at ringside, Ali’s own brother, were not as confident of victory as they later maintained in the dressing room after the fight. Ali’s brother was calling Foreman an amateur and beseeching his brother to outbox George and “knock him out, show him who’s boss, box him, get him going.”

Dundee seemed perturbed and disgusted by the turn of events which to most at ringside looked as though both men were getting tired. Despite showboating to indicate that he was in no danger, Ali seemed in very real danger of losing the bout due to Foreman’s devastating body punching.

As later events indicated, it was Foreman who was more tired. He lost steam in his punches and became an open target for the eighth round, a turn of events that spewed forth a flurry of Ali punches that decided the situation, ending all speculation.

The fight was a slugfest, a real pier six bangaroo and one of the better heavyweight title fights from a standpoint of action.

The entire fight followed the same pattern. At the bell, Foreman would rush across the ring and meet Ali coming out of his corner and attempt to crowd him into the ropes or a corner where he would mainly bang away to Ali’s body, with occasional jabs or hooks to the challenger’s jaw.

Ali, in turn, would seem to be taking all Foreman could deliver and although he looked tired, he never did go down.

As the fight went to the deciding eighth round, the writer had the score in rounds four to three in favor of Foreman. This is now academic since the knockout was the convincer and erased any doubt as to the winner.

After the fight at which some 200-plus scribes from all over the world gathered, Foreman stated to the writer, “Did I tire? I was never tired.”

Ali lands the finishing blow on Foreman. Photo from The Ring archive

To these eyes he did look tired. George showed that he had class in his immediate post-fight remarks to the scribes.

“Ali is a fine gentleman, he loves his children, wife and country,” the former champion said. “He has a great love for his people and a desire to help them. Ali is responsible for bridging the black man from America to Africa. This is a bridge that will never be broken.”

Stretched on the rubbing table, tired, with his face swollen, George answered questions tossed at him and waxed philosophical:

“I will stay in Africa and travel for some time. I would like to strengthen the bridge of blacks. I love America and I think blacks and whites must come together. My mother and father had their origin here and I would like to see them come back some time.”

The writer asked Foreman if he would fight Ali the same way if he had the opportunity.

“For the first time I felt secure in a fight and I felt I was winning right up to the end.

“I followed Dick’s (Dick Sadler his trainer) instructions, but next time I will follow them, if there ever is a next time, even more closely.

“Ali won the fight and I have no beefs . . . a champion should never alibi. I lost the fight but I don’t feel I was beaten.

“Yes, I would like another chance at Ali. That’s up to him. I think he has said some bad things about me but, basically, I do not have anything against him.”

Asked the usual question as to how he felt about losing the fight, George gave us his peculiar smile that denotes patience. “How do I feel about losing? No loser feels good, but I know I did my best.”

Of course, as the drum thumps prepare the way for a return engagement, many weird statements will be used for publicity purposes.

The usually loquacious Ali sat in his dressing room, which was the scene of pandemonium such as I have never witnessed before at any fight. Not only inside the room were photographers fighting reporters for the space close to the champ but in the hall there was a long stream of people, some having so connection with boxing, wanting to catch a glimpse of their hero or possibly touch him. Never has a fighter had a more partisan following than Ali in Zaire. That he is the hero of his people there is no doubt. Even when losing, in those rounds when things looked black, his people chanted for him and they were the greater number in the arena.

“Ali – kill him, Ali – kill him!” For his pride, for his people, and for money – Ali did just that. He ended the life of Foreman for the time being as champion.

Facing his questioners, Ali took over before any questions could be asked of him.

“Allah was in the ring tonight, not Ali. I’m not supposed to have a punch, remember? Allah was in that arena and did what had to be done. Now I’m going to spread Allah – to go into the ministry if (leader) Elijah Muhammad agrees.”

Ali presented with The Ring Magazine championship belt after dethroning Foreman. Photo from The Ring archive

Asked if he followed any plan, the new champion replied: “I did what I said I would do. I jabbed him in the corners and let him tire himself out. I waited on my chance and then pow! Ali is the greatest!

“You remember Foreman was never to be beaten by me, he was unbeatable. A big, fearsome, dangerous man with a punch that would break me in half. He can punch hard and is strong, but he can’t handle jabs and speed.

“Joe Frazier is a better fighter and more dangerous. In close Frazier really can hurt a man. In close George doesn’t know what to do. If you can move then George doesn’t seem to be able to hit hard.”

As Ali came into the dressing room from a more secluded back room, many of those present were not surprised to hear boxing’s sales superman ask those present if Foreman was still one of the greatest of all time. The Ali group all answered “no!” as if on cue.

Sitting there, an obviously very tired man with his right eye bloodshot, he was otherwise unmarked in contrast with the punch-marked face of the ex-champion. He never lost his sense of humor as he referred to his standing as compared to Foreman.

“Foreman will now be called a bum, he will no longer be one of the greatest, one of the hardest hitters of all times.”

Will he give Foreman a return fight? “It’s too early to talk about that,” he continued. “If anyone wants to talk about fighting let them come up with $10 million.” He went on, “If I decided to retire I won’t for at least six months. I don’t want my name out of Ring Magazine as the champion. I want to enjoy it for a while.”

I had been told earlier by Angelo Dundee that if Ali won he would not retire. The money must be good to keep the champ in the showcase.

We asked Hank Schwartz, vice president of Video Techniques, who fed the fight into theatres and had a lot to do with putting it together, if he were interested in a return fight.

“It’s too soon to say,” said Hank. “Could be.”

Would he hold a second fight in Zaire? “Why not, it has been good to boxing to me, certainly financially. Right now, I’d like to go fishing.”

Before the fight I had talked to Don King, who put the fight together in the early stages and was the glue that held it together during the period when money was hard to find. Don was asked what the future might bring,

He felt that in addition to the obvious possibilities, he would like to open up Cuba with a possible meeting in Havana between Teofilo Stevenson (the last Olympic winner, reported to be a real killer) and Ali.

 

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