FOUR decades ago when the incomparable Muhammad Ali chopped down the seemingly invincible and ferociously hard-hitting George Foreman in the African jungle.
A big underdog going into the fight that would see 32-year-old Ali attempt to regain the heavyweight crown he had initially won a full ten years earlier, some people felt 25-year-old Foreman, then perfect at 40-0(37) might seriously hurt Ali. But, with no small assistance of a trainer and corner-man who knew exactly how great his fighter was, Ali’s boxing genius was to guide him to what was arguably the finest moment of his illustrious career.
Angelo Dundee was Ali’s chief second that amazing night (or morning, the fight taking place in the small hours in Zaire, Africa), as he was in all but a couple of the then Cassius Clay’s early pro bouts, and “Angie” once again spoke his words of wisdom into Ali’s ear.
Speaking about the fight just over a year before his death in 2012, the 89-year-old who had been asked just about everything concerning this great fight many times, shared the following memories of that astonishing spectacle and on Ali in general:
Dundee on the infamous “he loosened the ropes on purpose” story that refused to go away:
“Isn’t it wonderful that people are still curious? I love that, because it means we’re still here. No, what happened was, I went to Kinshasa – we were 45-minutes away in Nsele, staying in a villa – and I went to the arena that day at 4P.M, and I tried to tighten the ropes, Bobby Goodman and I. They were 24-foot ropes for a 20-foot ring. It wasn’t easy, but we tightened them, not figuring on the heat in Zaire.
“The fight wasn’t until 4A.M the next morning, and the heat loosened the ropes again. I never wanted Muhammad to lie on the ropes; as a matter of fact, I whacked him on his butt whenever he lay on the ropes near the corner. That ring was six-foot off the ground, and I was worried Foreman would hit him in the chest and knock him out of the ring. If that had happened, the fight would’ve been over.”
Dundee on where the victory over Foreman ranks in Ali’s long list of accomplishments:
“Oh, God, that one was one of his very best. But the best of all was the win over Sonny Liston. He [Liston] was the baddest man on the planet at the time, and no-one gave my kid a chance going in. That one was also special.”
Dundee on what made Ali such a great fighter:
“Ali could go all night. Where he got his reserves from I don’t know. But he always had those reserves. He was a little bit special. One time I saw him get decked in sparring. He got whacked on the chin, but as soon as his butt hit the canvas he woke up and he got up. I knew then I had a great fighter to work with.”
Dundee on what would have happened had Ali and Foreman had a rematch:
“Certain people beat certain people. This happens all the time in boxing, you’ve seen it. Actually, the old George Foreman would’ve given Ali a tougher fight. But the young George, with his wild swings, my guy would’ve beaten him all night. George, as an old guy, he was relaxed, steady and he would grind you down – just like he did to Michael Moorer, when he won the title back. My guy would always have beaten his style though.”
Dundee on the top-three heavyweights of all-time:
“My guy’s at number one. Number two? George Foreman. But then you can’t discount Joe Louis, the finest human being God ever put on this earth. How can you not include Rocky Marciano? You know, you could talk all day. It’s like a trivia question, but everyone has their opinion (laughs).”
Dundee on how Ali would have done against the Klitschko brothers:
“He would’ve stopped both of them. See, Ali looked great against big guys – Cleveland Williams I’ll give you as an example, a huge guy. Another guy, most people haven’t seen the fight, a guy named Duke Sabedong from early in Muhammad’s career (June of 1961, a points win for Ali). He was like 6’6.” Ali’s speed would have overcome both Klitschko brothers. But, hey, they’re the best around today.”