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Muhammad Ali Vs George Foreman: Was The Rumble in the Jungle Fixed?

By Geno McGahee

The night was October 30th, 1974, a historic date in the world of boxing, and perhaps, it is the most significant moment of all time in the sweet science. Perhaps the best place to start is March 22nd, 1967, when Ali Muhammad Ali would lose his WBA Heavyweight Title to the U.S. Government. For three years, the true heavyweight champion could not fight and could have very well ended up in prison, and perhaps the conspiracy lies with the government itself, as they obviously singled “The Greatest” out in hopes to destroy him for being outspoken.

For three years, Ali would be away from boxing and “Smokin” Joe Frazier would assume the role as the best fighter in the world. He would knock out Jimmy Ellis to capture the vacant WBC Heavyweight Title and also picked up the WBA Heavyweight Crown along the way. On March 8th, 1971, another historic bout would be made. The man known to many as the true champion, Ali, faced the reigning champion, Joe Frazier, in a fifteen round affair with the WBC/WBA Titles on the line. Frazier would win a fifteen round unanimous decision, and really locked the win when a left hook by “Smokin Joe” put Ali on his back. The wrong was not corrected, and the man that had his title stolen from him was not able to get it back.

On January 22, 1973, Joe Frazier would meet the ferocity and power of a relatively unknown, George Foreman. “Big George” won a Gold Medal in the 1968 Olympic Games, but his professional career was not extremely remarkable and he was a big underdog going into his world title opportunity. The aggression of the smaller Frazier was the equivalent to walking onto a minefield. He was destroyed in two rounds and a message was sent to the boxing world. A new dominant force was unleashed on boxing in the mold of Sonny Liston. That aura of invincibility grew with another quick stoppage of Ken Norton, who was known for beating Muhammad Ali, but he was left in a heap in less than two rounds at the hands of Foreman.

Every promoter in boxing wanted to make George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali, which promised to be the biggest bout in boxing in quite some time. It was bigger than Frazier-Ali I, and the money that could be made by all involved was unparalleled at that time. Bob Arum was most likely going to get this bout, but a new promoter on the scene showed his genius and outfoxed the more experienced and more established competition to get the biggest possible bout in 1974, and perhaps of all time. Don King set up “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa, and had a gleam in his eye. He was at his best, handling the personalities of both men, and keeping an event together that could have fallen apart at any time. There were American journalists that were murdered, criminals being executed by soldiers, threats from both fighters to leave, problems with the stadium and the threat of torrential downpours. Everything had to be perfect for this bout to come off, and it was.

Now everyone knows the outcome…the return of the King to the throne, and an invincible force defeated by a man that seemed to have divine intervention on his side. It is a great story, a great moment, a fantastic achievement by everyone involved, but RSR now poses the question: Was “The Rumble in the Jungle” Fixed?

I am not contending that this fight was fixed in the traditional way where one fighter finds a soft spot on the canvas and waits for the referee to reach ten as determined prior to the fight beginning. What I am contending is that there were some things that may raise a few eyebrows and might make you rethink one of the most historic results of all time.

Dick Sadler on the take?

Dick Sadler, “Big George’s” Trainer, according to George Foreman himself, was acting strangely before, during, and after this bout with Ali. The most compelling claim is that Sadler had given Foreman a drug to drain him for the upcoming title defense. Prior to the ring walk, Sadler asked his fighter: “Are you ready for your water now?” After a big gulp, the 2-Time Heavyweight Champion asked if there was any medicine in it and said: “This tastes like medicine,” in reference to the water that he was given. After three rounds, he was exhausted and felt as if he went fifteen. It has been often noted that Foreman’s stamina was his weakness at this time, but he had gone ten rounds on three different occasions prior to this bout, including a tenth round stoppage of Gregorio Manuel Peralta.

Another note about Sadler was the advice that he was giving as the fight went on. Typically, Foreman would be instructed to take his time, but not this time. He was continually told to continue with the attack, furthering expending any energy that he had on this night. Was this a case of a bad night for a trainer, or do the conspiracy buffs have the first pieces of evidence, proving that George Foreman had the deck stacked highly against him.

Lack of Officiating

Referee Zach Clayton made his presence known by what he didn’t do. There was a tactic that Ali employed throughout his career, but was hardly ever punished for this. It is the same infraction of the rules that 2-Time WBA Heavyweight Champion, John Ruiz, has been criticized for throughout his career. “The Greatest” held excessively, and more importantly, he was pushing on the back of Foreman’s head, which is more dangerous then the embrace that Ruiz often gives. At no point did Clayton penalize Ali for this serious and constant rule breaker. This alone may not be enough to question Clayton’s intentions, but there is one other thing that he did that may just be the smoking gun in this conspiracy theory. I’ll get to that a little later.

Loose Ropes

A large part of the affective game plan that was employed by Ali had to do with lying against the ropes and leaning back as far as he could go to either avoid a punch or to counter. Ali mastered this in sparring sessions while in Zaire, and the Foreman camp had to know that this was part of the plan, which is why you would figure that somebody from that group would demand that the ropes had to be tightened. Whatever the case, the ropes were, by far, the loosest that I have ever seen, and it nearly crippled the offense of Foreman.

This was either an oversight by everyone, or this was yet another intentional benefit given to the big underdog in this fight, Ali.

The 8th Round and the Smoking Gun

It was the round that decided the fight. Foreman started out this round, as he started out the others, pressing the action and doing whatever he could as Ali was pinned against the ropes. An exhausted champion flailed away and was definitely out of gas. Ali didn’t look extremely fresh either, and it is not surprising. This was a grueling fight. At the seconds ticked down, we were ready to go into the ninth round in a very interesting fight, but a combination from Ali would send an off balance Foreman to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. The invincible monster was on his back, and Clayton began his count. Now, here is the smoking gun, which is what every conspiracy theory is usually missing.

Clayton never reached ten. He stopped the fight when Foreman was on his feet at the count of eight. There were two seconds left in the round, and with the champion on his feet before the referee reached the ten count, he should have been allowed to continue. Clayton did not even evaluate Foreman when he got up. He just called the fight and Ali had taken back the title that was robbed from him seven years prior, which was the ending that everyone seemed to want.

Most of the points made in this piece are certainly debatable, but the one thing that I have always had an issue with was the officiating of Zach Clayton. The count at the end is not only short, but it is quick, and when it comes to the best prize in sports, this should not be allowed to happen. The fact that there was never a rematch leaves this conspiracy wide open for speculation. The story is much better with Ali winning and slaying the unbeatable monster, as he did in 1964, when he stopped another invincible force, named Sonny Liston.

Nobody can question the talent of Ali, but this is just one of many instances where it seems that he has benefited from questionable officiating. George Foreman has seemed to come to terms with that defeat to Ali, stating time and time again that he was beaten by experience, but when he defeated Michael Moorer for the IBF/WBA Heavyweight Titles, he said that he had “exorcized a demon” referring to the loss to Ali.

The biggest conspiracy may have taken place in 1967, when Ali was stripped of his title unjustly, and perhaps this was just history’s way of righting a wrong. Amazingly, this night in Zaire and the end result may have been the best thing in both men’s career. Ali was never bigger and had his property returned to him, while Foreman rode off into the sunset, discovered himself, and came back to become one of the biggest names in the history of boxing. It was a magical night in Africa, a great night for the sport, and perhaps there were some strange things going on that helped Ali become the heavyweight champion again.

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