On this day in history, October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali wins ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’


Boxer Muhammad Ali was declared the heavyweight champion of the world after he defeated George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” on this day in history, Oct. 30, 1974.

The “Rumble in the Jungle” took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) — and featured 32-year-old Ali and 25-year-old Foreman.

Ali was previously the heavyweight champion, but he lost his title in 1967 after he refused to join the military. 

After publicly announcing he’d joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, he tried unsuccessfully in 1965 to apply as a conscientious objector.

Ali was convicted of draft evasion in the U.S. Armed Forces and was sentenced to five years in prison, but his sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court.

His boxing license and world championship were, however, suspended in the meantime. Ali returned to boxing in October 1970 — and in 1971 he lost to Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century.” 

Ali later defeated Frazier, which meant he could compete against then-champion George Foreman. 

The “Rumble in the Jungle” was staged by the country of Zaire, according to the History Channel’s website. 

In a move to boost the country’s tourism industry, Zaire’s president Mobutu Sese Seko personally paid Ali and Foreman $5 million before the fight, the same source noted. 

For Ali, the fight was about more than personal glory. 

“I wanted to establish a relationship between American blacks and Africans,” he later said.

“The fight was about racial problems, Vietnam. All of that,” he said.

He added, “‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ was a fight that made the whole country more conscious.”

The fight started at 4:30 a.m. local time, so it could be broadcast live to American television viewers during primetime hours. 

Even with the pre-dawn start, 60,000 people came to the outdoor Stade du Mai 20 to watch the two boxing legends fight, said the History Channel. 

Millions around the world watched the broadcast of the fight.

Going into the match, Foreman was undefeated — and seven years Ali’s junior, he was the heavy favorite. 

Betting lines were set at Ali 4:1, notes Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Ahead of the fight, underdog Ali was not shy in boasting that he would defeat Foreman.

Speaking at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Ali recited a poem about his fighting prowess. 

“I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, and throw thunder in jail,” said Ali. “You know I’m bad. Just last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”

He also adapted his trademark “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” catchphrase to include a jab at Foreman.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t,” said Ali ahead of the bout. 

Early on in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” things did not seem as if they were going in Ali’s favor. 

During the first few rounds, Ali pretended he was stuck on the ropes of the boxing ring; Foreman then effectively tired himself out by taking repeated punches at Ali.

Ali’s trainers called this the “rope-a-dope” strategy because Ali was a “dope” for even trying it, said the History Channel. 

Ali’s novel “rope-a-dope” tactic proved successful — and the risky endeavor paid off. 

Foreman’s punches began to become less and less intense as the fight went on, and by the fifth round of the fight, he was visibly fading.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”

During the eighth round, Ali seized the opportunity and “went on the attack,” said Encyclopedia Britannica — and knocked out Foreman. 

With just two seconds left in the eighth round, Ali was declared the winner. 

With the victory, Ali was once again the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. 

He would reign until Feb. 15, 1978, when he lost to Leon Spinks.  

Ali retired from boxing in 1981, shortly before his 40th birthday. 

His final record was 56 wins, 5 losses. 

He died on June 3, 2016, at the age of 74, at a Phoenix hospital. 

He was buried in his native Louisville, Kentucky. 

A spokesperson said Ali died of septic shock “due to unspecified natural causes.” The boxing legend spent the last hour of his life surrounded by his family.

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