Ali and Foreman Rumble in the Jungle

When heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman faced challenger and former champ Muhammad Ali in a title fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, Ali knocked Foreman out and became the second boxer to lose and regain the heavyweight title.

Summary of Event

The heavyweight boxing title bout between champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali, held in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974, was one of the most significant fights of the twentieth century. The match, during which Ali regained the heavyweight title that had been taken from him after his conviction for evading the U.S. military draft, solidified Ali’s reputation as one of the century’s greatest fighters and one of the world’s most popular athletes. Sports;boxing
Rumble in the Jungle
[kw]Ali and Foreman Rumble in the Jungle (Oct. 30, 1974)
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Rumble in the Jungle
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Ali, Muhammad
Foreman, George

Three great boxers dominated the heavyweight boxing division during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s: Ali (the former Cassius Clay), Foreman, and Joe Frazier. Frazier, Joe As amateurs, all three had won Olympic gold medals. Ali, the oldest of the three fighters, won the heavyweight title, at age twenty-two, from Sonny Liston Liston, Sonny in 1964 and held the title until 1967, when the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission canceled his boxing license and stripped him of his title for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army. Ali cited his opposition to the Vietnam War as his reason for refusing to serve in the military.

During Ali’s absence from the ring, Frazier gained the heavyweight title. Ali, whose conviction for draft evasion was ultimately reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, returned to the ring in 1970 and fought Frazier for the heavyweight title in 1971. Frazier bested Ali in that bout at New York City’s Madison Square Garden but lost his title to Foreman in two brutal rounds in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1973. Ali beat Frazier in a rematch early in 1974, and later that year, Don King, King, Don an ex-convict new to the world of boxing promotion, arranged for Ali to fight Foreman for the heavyweight title in Kinshasa, Zaire. Promotional material dubbed the fight the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Each fighter would receive $5 million for the fight, then the largest purse in boxing history. The bout was scheduled for 4:00 a.m. local time so that it could be broadcast in prime viewing time in theaters on the East Coast of the United States. King’s success in arranging and promoting the Ali-Foreman fight established him as boxing’s most important promoter. “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier attended the fight, anxious for a chance to challenge the winner and regain the heavyweight title.

Inside and outside the ring, Ali and Foreman were a study in contrasts. Foreman was a bruising toe-to-toe fighter who relied on a strong knockout punch to demolish his ring opponents. As he entered the ring in Kinshasa, Foreman, who was undefeated, had scored thirty-five knockouts, all but three of which came before the fifth round. Ali danced in the ring. He relied on his quickness and constant movement around the ring to avoid punches and tire his opponent, then he moved in for the knockout when the other boxer was exhausted and rubbery-legged. Ali was talkative and quick-witted, a public man who spoke out forcefully about the Vietnam War, civil rights, and other social issues of the day; he also was known for predicting the outcomes of his fights in rhyme. Foreman was private and subdued, often even sullen, in public appearances.

Muhammad Ali watches as defending world champion George Foreman falls to the canvas in the eighth round of their championship bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

For their Zaire bout, Foreman was the betting favorite, but Ali was the fan favorite. During the short time that he held the title, and during his three-year forced absence from the boxing ring, Ali had built a worldwide fan base. He stepped into the ring in Zaire as the most recognized athlete in the world, a hero to both the world’s poor and downtrodden, who admired his rise from poverty, and the educated elite, who admired his willingness to articulate unpopular stands on public issues. Ali embraced the religion of Islam as well as his African roots, which made him the hometown favorite in Kinshasa.

Before the fight, Ali boasted that he would dance all night against Foreman. Early in the fight, however, it became clear to spectators that Ali had developed a different strategy for his rumble with Foreman. The two fighters exchanged punches in the middle of the ring during the first round, but early in round two, Ali backed himself against the ropes, covered his face with his gloves and his body with his forearms, and allowed Foreman to punch away. Against a strong puncher like Foreman, leaning back against the ropes and absorbing blows was a questionable strategy. Spectators expected Ali to move around the ring to avoid Foreman’s formidable punches, but for the next few rounds, Ali spent most of the time leaning on the ropes—a tactic later dubbed the “rope-a-dope” strategy.

Ali blocked most of Foreman’s fiercest punches, and Foreman, clearly frustrated by Ali’s refusal to come to the center of the ring and box, often swung wildly and missed. By the fifth round, Foreman, who was used to dispatching his opponents inside of four rounds, began to tire. During the last half minute of the fifth round, Ali bounced off the ropes and savagely attacked his fatigued opponent, landing twenty unanswered punches before the round ended. The crowd cheered, and journalists covering the fight began to sense an upset.

By the eighth round, Foreman was exhausted; his punches lacked the snap and crispness needed to knock out an opponent. With twenty seconds left in the round, Ali, confident that he could block or absorb any of the champion’s punches, moved off the ropes and forced Foreman to the center of the ring. Ali staggered Foreman by hitting him with consecutive left-right combinations. Two hard rights from Ali then sent the champion spinning forward, arms outstretched, toward the canvas. The referee counted Foreman out, and Ali had regained the heavyweight boxing title.


By winning the match in Zaire, Ali became the second boxer (after Floyd Patterson) to regain the heavyweight title. Although he never faced Foreman again, Ali defended his title against Frazier in 1975, beating Smokin’ Joe in a brutal battle in Manila. Ali lost his title again to Leon Spinks Spinks, Leon in 1978, then again regained the title later that year by besting Spinks. Ali retired from boxing in 1980. Already a world celebrity, he became, in retirement, active in social and philanthropic causes and an unofficial American ambassador to the world. The onset of Parkinson’s syndrome during the 1990’s curtailed Ali’s activities and public appearances.

Foreman used his defeat in Zaire to remake himself. He fought a few more matches during the next three years, then retired in 1977 to become a minister and operate a youth center. After retirement, he gained more than one hundred pounds, but in 1987, he shocked the boxing world by shedding some of his weight and returning to the ring. He quickly regained his ranking as a top heavyweight. Then, in 1994, at age forty-five, Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer, Moorer, Michael the reigning heavyweight champion, to regain the heavyweight title. By the time he had returned to the boxing ring, Foreman had cast off his image as a brooding, brutish man and had become a garrulous, witty, and self-effacing fan favorite. When he finally retired from boxing for good, he became a popular television pitchman for a variety of consumer products.

The Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire marked a high point in boxing history. Three great fighters dominated the heavyweight division at the time of the Ali-Foreman fight. Ali, with his victory over Foreman in Zaire and his subsequent victory over Frazier in Manila, proved that he was the greatest of them all. Sports;boxing
Rumble in the Jungle

Further Reading

  • Ali, Muhammad, with Hana Yasmeen. The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Autobiography covers Ali’s life inside and outside the boxing ring.
  • Early, Gerald, ed. The Muhammad Ali Reader. Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco Press, 1998. Collection of essays by well-known authors examines Ali’s life and boxing career.
  • Hauser, Thomas. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Biography built around the voices of Ali’s opponents, his trainers and corner men, and journalists who covered his fights.
  • Mailer, Norman. The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975. Analysis of the Ali-Foreman fight by a noteworthy American author.
  • Plimpton, George. “Breaking a Date for the Dance.” Sports Illustrated, November 11, 1974, 22-28. Report on the Ali-Foreman fight by a noted American sports journalist.
  • Remnick, David. King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. New York: Random House, 1998. Traces Ali’s life from his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky, to his place of prominence as the world’s most recognized athlete.

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