Boxing: How a giant was cut down in the jungle: It was 20 years ago today that Muhammad Ali rumbled Foreman in Zaire. Reg Gutteridge filed this report for the London Evening News

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Kinshasa, 30 October 1974 HAIL Muhammad Ali, the greatest sorcerer sport has ever known. Boxing's black magician regained the world heavyweight crown by knocking out George Foreman in eight incredible rounds in Kinshasa, Zaire, yesterday.

''Will they say I am immortal besides being the greatest?' the unbelievable Ali boomed afterwards. The fighting prophet is running out of points to prove. He said he would force the unbeaten Foreman to punch himself out - and then chop him down.

Ali won on cue after talking and taunting throughout the fight. The end came when Foreman, who almost collapsed in his corner after the seventh, was pawing and being pushed away.

Ali clipped him with a right, repeated the punch, and Foreman's legs unhinged. The champion pitched to the centre of the ring face downwards, then twisted over as he fell. Foreman's red trunks were covered with resin as he looked vacant-eyed to his cornermen. Referee Zack Clayton, who had acted the part of a striped-shirted wrestling ref, yelled the count. Foreman seemed oblivious. He had become a victim of his own conceit that brawn would overcome brain.

Foreman made a last-second attempt to beat the count, but he was rightly counted out as he rose. He looked bemused. Ali, the irrepressible, and now surely the greatest of all, looked down at him like an emperor staring at an unruly subject.

'I made him fight and he wouldn't get up,' said Ali. 'I talked to him, called his bluff and scared him out of the ring. I don't know about retiring. I'll sit on it for a few months. Old George can have a rematch but he don't have a chance now. I know his style,' declared Ali.

Foreman made a mystifying statement. 'He won the fight yet I cannot admit defeat. I knew I would not knock him out, but I felt truly that I was in control. I wasn't tired. I didn't know the fight was over until Ali's cornermen came into the ring. I don't pay no attention to referees counting.

I took my instructions from the corner. I don't know what happened,' said bewildered George.

The only knockdown Ali suffered was when the ring was invaded by backslappers and he was shoved over. He sat with his arms on his knees being protected by handlers and a posse of white-helmeted police.

Ali often made it a mimickry of a fight, yet he was hit with punches that seemed capable of tearing his head from his shoulders. Foreman also clubbed desperately at Ali's body. For minutes Ali would prop himself against the ropes inviting Foreman to punch.

It seemed an admirable but foolish trait. But Ali is something else. His ability to take a hard punch is the secret of his greatness. He hollers there is nothing wrong with his heart.

Anyone who might doubt the validity of the result should have witnessed the sprays of sweat that bounced off the fighters' bodies. They grunted like angry rhinos trying to beat their way out of the bush. Foreman shook the ring with the weight of his fall.

The first round was won by Ali. It was vicious stuff, with Foreman trying to cave in Ali's rib cage. Ali clung to him like a barnacle yet a short right hand that hurt Foreman's pride as much as his chin might have been the warning.

It was the first boulder of the landslide to come. Ali's left rapped into Foreman's face, Chinese-water-torture-style. Foreman has a mechanical movement of the head and makes only feeble attempts to duck punches. He is too concerned trying to win by muscular mass.

Ali exposed himself to punches at his peril, allowing Foreman to ambush him in corners. Yet even at 32, Ali was able to run rings around the champion.

It was a replay of Ali's wins over another fighting Frankenstein - Sonny Liston. Ali contained his fighting to spurts, but they were super.

Foreman, I thought, looked as though he was prepared to quit after the sixth and seventh. He was punched and psyched out of the fight. Ali even had the temerity to call for a crowd chant.

The 40,000 Zairois responded with jungle type 'Boma-aye (Kill Him).' Ali shook his head to indicate that Foreman had not hurt him - an act that began with his first fight against Joe Frazier.

He also twice left his corner to laugh and say 'he's nothing' to a commentary bench that included David Frost - an arch Ali fan.

The heat was intense, inevitably slowing two of the biggest heavies of all time. In the fifth, Foreman had Ali pinned against the ropes just an arm's length from me. They stayed there for almost two minutes. I could hear Ali mumbling through his gumshield and I winced each time cumbersome Foreman clubbed. 'Take him home, champ,' shouted Ali's seconds. 'Stop playing,' they implored.

But it was Ali's show-off contempt and old-fashioned guts that gunned down a man who had not been off his feet or lost a decision in 40 fights. Foreman had traded on fear since clobbering Joe Frazier 21 months ago. The humdrum work exploded into a thunderclap when Ali reckoned Foreman was 'too tired to stand up'. The big man was a spent force. The ring's finest matador got the bull's ears once again and Foreman plunged to his first defeat. The end came after two minutes 58 seconds of the eighth.

Where does Ali go from here? I discount retirement. He is motivated by applause. Joe Frazier, the ex-champion who won't lie down, was at ringside angling for a third showdown clash with Ali.

And don't rule out a second Ali clash with European champion Bugner.

Provided Joe keeps winning, Foreman could not complain if he were denied a return.

He was not good enough . . .

(Photograph omitted)