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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 14:11 GMT
When Ali rumbled Foreman
By BBC Sport Online's Sanjeev Shetty
If there was any doubt as to the scale of Muhammad Ali's greatness, they were erased by his dramatic and stirring eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in Zaire.
As Cassius Clay, he had first won the heavyweight title in 1964, changed his name and dominated the division as clearly as any champion in history.
That domination ended when he refused to join the US Army in 1967 and had his boxing licence revoked by most American states.
His world title was declared vacant and after a mini-tournament made Joe Frazier the new champion, Ali, quite rightly, derided Frazier's claims.
Ali was able to get his licence back in 1970 and quickly moved into position to challenge Frazier for the world title.
That challenge came in March 1971 and Frazier won a close but clear 15-round decision.
Ali spent the next three years fighting his way back into contention for a world title fight - he split two fights with Ken Norton and avenged the loss to Frazier.
But by the time he had done that, there was a new champion in Foreman, who had taken the crown with a frightening two-round demolition of Frazier.
Foreman then destroyed Norton in two rounds to make people wonder whether he was ushering in a new era.
Ali had been unable to drop either Frazier or Norton in over 50 rounds of boxing and at the age of 32, his speed of foot and hand was not what it once was.
Foreman was 26 and very much in his prime, unbeaten in 40 fights, with only three of those having gone the distance.
The fight was actually delayed by six weeks when Foreman sustained a cut in sparring.
Few believed that the postponement would help Ali - in fact, many of his biggest fans feared for his health and safety.
If there was a way for Ali to win, it would be by speed of hand and foot, or so he told the press before the fight.
Ali's infectious enthusiasm gave the crowd hope, with the atmosphere inside the stadium electric come fight time, despite the fight being held at 4am local time.
During the first round, Ali did move and avoid most of Foreman's blows, while also stopping long enough to land his own potent right hand.
But for whatever reason, Ali declined to follow those tactics in the second round and was content to stand on the ropes while Foreman threw wicked hooks to his body and head.
In time, the strategy received a name of its own - the rope-a-dope.
The strategy initially looked suicidal. Foreman's punches seemed to have so much power that even when they missed the target, they appeared painful.
Many of his blows to the head were wayward, but a considerable amount of punches landed on the side of Ali's body.
The former champion's ability to soak up punishment had not been in question since his first fight with Frazier.
But no one had ever hit him in the way that Foreman did.
For what seemed like an eternity, the champion kept wailing away at Ali, who would respond intermittently with a right hand.
By round six, Foreman was looking arm weary, having expended significant energy throwing a large volume of punches.
He still kept swinging his arms in that trademark style of his, there was now much less power in the blows.
During the last 30 seconds of the eighth round, Ali launched a cunning counter-attack which would prove conclusive.
Apparently trapped in a neutral corner, Ali began to throw his right hand at an unprotected Foreman.
Perhaps three of them connected, although not fully, before Ali turned his man and fired a straight right hand at Foreman's jaw which sent the champion sprawling.
Exhaustion perhaps played a part in Foreman's fall to the canvas and he was unable to rise completely by the time referee Zack Clayton tolled ten.
A weary Foreman almost immediately left the ring - it would take him a number of years and retirement to recover fully from the defeat.
Amazingly, he recaptured the crown at the age of 46 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994.
But that night in Zaire was about Ali, and the way he defied the odds.
During his 20s, Ali had dazzled his opponents with skill - now in his 30s, he was relying on heart, determination and a little wisdom.
That combination would help him through a third fight with Frazier a year later and cement his standing as the 'Greatest'.
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