Boxing Strategy in Ali-Foreman Fight
by Ron Kurtus (revised 4 October 2011)
In 1974, 32-year old former world boxing champion Muhammad Ali fought the younger undefeated Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman who was heavily favored to win the fight.
Ali used an unusual strategy he called "rope-a-dope" to tire Foreman. He then proceeded to knock Foreman out and win the championship.
In this head-to-head competition, Ali used deception to get Foreman to overextend himself. The loss to Ali so demoralized Foreman that he retired from boxing at age 28.
Questions you may have include:
- Why was Foreman the favorite?
- What was Ali's initial strategy?
- Why did Ali use his "rope-a-dope" strategy?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Foreman heavy favorite
Muhammad Ali was 32-years old in 1974 and apparently past his prime. He had his jaw broken by Ken Norton in a1973 fight that he had barely won. Previous to that in 1971, he had been beater by then-world champion Joe Frazier. Meanwhile George Foreman was at the top of his game, having knocked out both Frazier and Norton, each in two rounds. Foreman was considered an awesome, dangerous boxer and was a favorite to win the bout with Ali.
The fight was schedule to take place in the African country of Zaire. It was to be called the "Rumble in the Jungle" by fight promoter Don King.
Ali's strategy to win the fight began upon coming to Zaire. Both Ali and Foreman trained for the fight in Zaire, especially to condition themselves for the hot humid weather.
Home court advantage
With Ali’s good looks, flamboyant nature and strong pro-African beliefs, he endeared himself to Zaire's citizens. Meanwhile Foreman trained in isolated from the African people. Although this was probably not an intentional strategy, Ali established Zaire as the "home court advantage" in that the crowd would be rooting for him.
Before the fight, Ali had been boasting how he was too fast for Foreman to keep up with him. Typically, Ali had set up his opponents through boasting and taunting before a fight. He would make fun of an opponent or predict which round he would knock out the opponent. The press would eat this up.
Ali's boasting of his speed and the way he opened the first round of the fight with a flurry of punches probably set up Foreman and his corner that Ali would try to win using his speed.
Foreman and author Norman Mailer claimed they saw Ali's trainers loosen the ropes before the fight. Foreman was not aware that there was meaning to the madness. It is not certain whether it was Ali's idea or the idea of his trainer Angelo Dundee. Most likely Dundee was instrumental in the whole fight strategy, since he was one of the best fight trainers.
Adjusting the environment is not uncommon in sporting events. National Basketball Association (NBA) teams would often take air out of the game balls in an effort to slow down Michael Jordan. After learning about this, coach Phil Jackson always checked the air pressure of the balls to make sure they were to specification.
During the fight
Ali employed his fight strategy to neutralize Foreman's power and to wear him out.
Foreman came out of his corner in the second round expecting a toe-to-toe battle. Instead, Ali leaned back against the ropes and let Foreman flail away at him. We would taunt Foreman to come and get him and then lean back, only protecting his face. This made Foreman angry and later frustrated, as he gave his best shots to Ali's midsection. But the give in the ropes was sufficient to reduce the damage.
When Foreman did throw a punch at his face, Ali was able to lean back or move his head just enough that the blow missed or had little impact. This was a special skill Ali had through most of his career. He would often hit an opponent while pulling back to avoid a counterpunch.
(See Similarity between Muhammad Ali and Bret Favre in the Sports section.)
Although he primarily used the rope-a-dope technique, Ali occasionally counter-attacked with fast, crisp blows to Foreman's face. Then he would slip back into the defensive mode. In this way, he was controlling the pace of the fight, according to his liking.
By the seventh round, Foreman had essentially punched himself out. His arms were tired and sometimes hanging on his side. Ali then used his speed and energy to do damage to Foreman, who was just trying to get in one good punch for a knockout. Ali taunted Foreman by saying, "George, it that all you've got?" Foreman realized that it was all he had.
In the eighth round, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight Championship.
The fight so devastated Foreman psychologically that he retired from boxing at age 28. He became a minister, became a mellow and friendly person, and later had a comeback in boxing at age 45.
Muhammad Ali used the home court advantage, psychological and environmental preparation, rope-a-dope strategy, and controlling the pace to set up the favored George Foreman for defeat. Even the name "rope-a-dope" showed that it was a strategy to bamboozle his opponent. Foreman was so thoroughly beaten that he retired from boxing while still in his prime.
Learn from the tactics of others
Resources and references
Rumble in the Jungle - From Answers.com
The Fight by Norman Mailer, Penguin Books (2000) $12.00 - First hand report by renown author who was at the fight.
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Boxing Strategy in Ali-Foreman Fight