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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 06:44 GMT 07:44 UK
A simply extraordinary night

Ali v Foreman, Zaire, 1974
By Harry Carpenter
Former BBC boxing commentator

George Foreman is counted out in Kinshasa
Rumble in the Jungle
Ali v Foreman, Zaire, 1974
Feature: Sunday Grandstand, BBC Two, 1630

When I heard about the fight my first deed was to go to the atlas and find out where Zaire was because I didn't really know what it was.

I found out of course, it was what we used to call the Belgian Congo. Then it was the Republic of Zaire, and now it is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At that time it was a mysterious place, nobody knew anything about it.

Kinshasa was a very downbeat city, and the fight itself took place in this extraordinary, dilapidated football stadium on the outskirts of the city.

I stayed in one of the best hotels and I vividly remember having lunch one day and watching a waiter chasing a rat across the dining room floor with a knife. It was that sort of place.

I don't think I was alone among the press in thinking: "What are we doing here and why is this fight taking place in Zaire?" It was the strangest surroundings of any fight I've ever attended.

Everybody was concerned about Ali.

He was 32, and everybody thought that at that age he was going to lose this fight because George Foreman was a formidable opponent.

The fight itself was extraordinary - Ali just stood there and let Foreman pummel him
Harry Carpenter

But on these big occasions, when it really mattered, Ali was inspired and he had the crowd behind him.

I remember the first time he went into the gym in Zaire, suddenly the whole crowd watching started chanting "Ali, boma ye! Ali, boma ye!" It meant, "Ali - Kill him".

I only did one interview with George and he was very prickly. He had this huge Alsatian and I felt if I wasn't careful in this interview he was going to set that dog on me.

He reminded me very much of Sonny Liston before the Ali fight, and I think possibly, looking back, Foreman might well have been a bit twitchy.

The fight itself was extraordinary - Ali just stood there and let Foreman pummel him.

I thought it was suicide when he went to the ropes like that and just lay back and let Foreman, who was a known puncher, a very hard puncher, hit him.

But of course it turned out to be exactly opposite to that, as so many things did with Ali. He always produced the opposite to what you thought he would, which was, I suppose, his genius.

In the eighth round I remember seeing Ali's hands come down by his sides and I said "ah, you know, he's dropping his hands, that's a sure sign of tiredness."

I suppose it was the most extraordinary few seconds that I have ever seen in a boxing ring
Harry Carpenter

I'd no sooner got these words out than he bounced off the ropes and he hit Foreman with a right hand and it was all over.

In that instant you knew George wouldn't get up. He was struggling to get up but you knew he couldn't. His whole mind was befuddled.

People often remark on my comments at the end of the fight: "My god, he's got the title back at 32".

It was totally spontaneous because I didn't expect Ali to win and when he did in such a sensational way it just came out!

I suppose it was the most extraordinary few seconds that I have ever seen in a boxing ring.

All the rest is a bit of a blur, but the one thing I do remember at the end of the fight was this fantastic tropical storm.

I'm not exaggerating here, within five minutes Kinshasa was flooded, the whole place, the capital, all the roads around it, the stadium, everywhere was flooded.

It was chaos, but after witnessing that fight nothing was a surprise.

People often ask me: "What if Ali had lost?"

Well, who knows? But there's no doubt at all that what he did to Foreman that night in Zaire will go down in history as one of the most extraordinary performances in boxing.


Interview: Foreman on the 'Rumble in the Jungle'


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