ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 1, 1974
ALI DESTROYS THE MONSTER
IT WAS as if the clock had been turned back 10 years. Muhammad Ali, for the second time in his incredible career, has shown a ring monster to be a mere mortal and, in doing so, became only the second fighter in history to regain the world heavyweight title.
Ali dismantled and finally destroyed awesome George Foreman to win on a clean knockout at 2min 58sec of the eighth round. It brought back memories of how Ali tormented the supposedly invincible Sonny Liston at Miami Beach back in 1964 to first win the world crown.
But whereas Liston quit on his stool, Foreman was chopped to the canvas and counted out. Ali had again defied the experts and defied ring logic that said Foreman, seven years younger at 25, would club him to humiliating defeat.
Foreman had looked menacing when winning the title from Joe Frazier and defending it against Ken Norton, both crushed in the second round. But Ali had the style and mental approach to expose the myth of Foreman’s invulnerability.
At the end of the seven completed rounds we had the fighters level on points. But Ali had taken over the fight in the sixth and seventh rounds, repeatedly shaking Foreman with thudding right-hands that screwed the champion’s head around and sent spray showering across the ring.
Foreman seemed to pin everything on overwhelming Ali early in the fight. He failed, and in the process punched himself into a state of near-exhaustion in the humid outdoor ring at Kinshasa’s new soccer stadium. The fight was held in the early hours of the morning to meet world-wide closed circuit TV requirements.
Ali employed much the same tactics as he did in the first epic meeting with Joe Frazier in 1971, covering up on the ropes and waiting for the storm to blow itself out around his arms and gloves, occasionally lowering his arms, to mock his rival’s efforts.
It did not pay off against Frazier because Joe just kept punching like a machine. But Foreman could not sustain his attack, and the champion’s confidence seemed to drain away when Ali was still standing and still defiant after George had thrown everything at him.
Ali backed off into the ropes for much of the fight, shielding his face with arms and gloves. Forman charged with head lowered but Ali grabbed the champion and pulled him off-balance with his left arm behind George’s neck.
Foreman tried to batter his way through by sheer, brute force but he could not get in a clean shot at a vulnerable target.
At times Foreman tried to line up Ali by extending his left arm and using it to measure distance but Ai invariably leaned out of range when George hurled mighty swings at his chin.
Ali was expected to stick and move, but he showed disdain for Foreman in the opening round by walking out and hitting him with right-hand leads. The psychological battle may have been won by Ali in those opening moments.
Foreman won the first two rounds on sheer aggression on our card but he was not really getting to Ali. By the second round George had a lump coming up under his right eye, proof that Ali’s countering lefts and rights, though infrequent, were not doing Foreman any good.
The champion seemed to be getting frustrated as early as the second round, and Ali shook his head disparagingly after George missed badly with a flailing left swing.
George thumped to the body in the third as Ali leaned against the ropes, but now Ali was putting punches together, shooting exclusively for the head and we scored this round for Ali. It was significant that Foreman’s body blows were not appearing to give the superbly-conditioned Ali too much trouble.
Foreman probably won the fourth on sheer persistence but he was not landing cleanly on the target area because Ali smothered and leaned back from punches.
The turning point came in the fifth. Ali let Foreman whack away at him for about two minutes of the round, taking most of George’s ponderous blows on his arms. Then Ali fired back, baring his gumshield as he lashed Foreman with rights and lefts to stagger the champion. Now we knew Ali had the power to hurt Foreman and the prospect of Ali pulling off a sensational victory now looked very real indeed.
We marked the fifth round even but the tide of battle had now definitely shifted Ali’s way, and he proceeded to take Foreman apart in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Foreman lumbered forward and was made to plunge into the ropes as Ali side-stepped his crude lunges.
Ali stood up at the end of the sixth to conduct his ringside rooting section in a victory chant. He sensed Foreman was fast running out of steam.
Foreman was still throwing punches but the power had left them. Ali picked off Foreman at will, slashing at him with sharp, accurate punches. George landed a right uppercut in the seventh but it failed to make any impression on Ali. Foreman’s crown was slipping and only his pride and heart kept him trundling forward in the hope that he might grind Ali down in a war of attrition. It was not to be.
George still came forward in the eighth, but Ali was content to let him have a final fling to drain some of the champion’s fast-ebbing strength.
Then Ali cut lose again. A right-hand rocked George, more lefts and rights sent him staggering back and a final right hand completed the job.
Foreman reeled like a man trying to keep his balance on an icy footpath and then keeled over. He struggled to try and get back up but black American referee Zack Clayton counted him out while George was still trying to get back on his feet. Ali raised his arms in victory while the count was proceeding. He knew perhaps better than any of us that George was through for the evening.
Before the fight, 32-year-old Ali said this would be his last contest. Now he may be persuaded to make a farewell defence of the title, perhaps against old rival Joe Frazier, who watched from the ringside.
Britain’s Joe Bugner is very much in the running, too, and moves will be made to lure Ali to London for a defence against Bugner in nine months or a year from now.
A crowd of about 70,000 – many of them non-paying – shrieked their adulation of Ali, who scored perhaps his greatest triumph of all in what he calls his African homeland.
Foreman, who had bludgeoned his way to 40 consecutive victories, 37 of them inside the scheduled distance, now knows what it is like to get clobbered himself. Brain beat brawn in a fight that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
*At the weigh-in for the fight last Saturday, held three days in advance to test satellite-TV pictures, Foreman scaled 15st 10lb while Ali weighed in at 15st 6½lb.
THE BOXING NEWS PREVIEW
“THE costliest cut in boxing history has healed. It is back to action stations. Barring further accidents, catastrophes or Acts of God, heavyweight champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali will do breath-taking battle in Kinshasa, Zaire, in the early hours of next Wednesday morning.”
Boxing News was preparing for the epic clash of former champion Ali and the seemingly indestructible world heavyweight champion George Foreman in Zaire.
Graham Houston set the scene: “The setting is a somewhat unlikely one, but the fight will be seen by millions all over the world on closed-circuit TV. This is the biggest single sports event in history and it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population will see it in either live or recorded form.”
Ali, 32, said this would be his last fight, with nothing left to accomplish. Victory would make him only the second man in history to regain the heavyweight championship
It was agreed that Ali was the only man with the physical and psychological attributes to defeat Foreman, however there was a severe doubt on his stamina maintaining the sort of performance he would need to stay out of trouble with the mighty Foreman.
“Ali is not the same dancing master of seven or eight years ago, while Foreman, aged 26, has the power to put out Ali’s lights,” wrote Houston.
Foreman had clubbed his way to 40 straight wins, 37 within the distance, crushing the likes of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton both inside two rounds. His trainer Dick Sadler was so confident he told the press: “Foreman would have beaten Ali the best night he ever had.”
“I think Foreman will walk through Ali’s jabs to overpower the people’s champion in a sensational fight. The ending will probably come somewhere around the 10th. Not even Muhammad Ali can turn back the clock indefinitely.”