Thursday, 30 October 2014

RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE, 40 YEARS AGO TODAY ...

I done kicked a lotta butts, all them people who thought George was the baddest man in the world,” said Muhammad Ali after knocking out George Foreman to regain the Heavyweight Championship in Zaire at the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', forty years ago today.

My father Ken Jones was there, both ringside and in a strange bungalow with Ali afterwards, on the green expanse of the Zaire River. Here, from his book 'Boxing: The Champions' (Crowood), is what happened after the fight.
'Sport provides us with a convenient vehicle for exaggeration, success and failure, youth and ageing. When set against the ultimate verity, it is never thus.
'Even before the fighters reached their corners, I trembled with anticipation, objectivity set aside, the commitment to Ali absolute.'
After the fight, the rain.
'Rain that turned the highway into a torrent, hammering on the roof of the springless vehicle that carried us back to N'Sele, the water level rising steadily up over the wheels. Our driver wanted none of it, pleading that it was impossible to complete the journey. We urged him on with promises.
'Dawn and all was still, steam rising from the swollen river, giving ghostly form to clumps of foliage so that they passed by like floating carcasses. After a while, Hugh McIlvanney and I made our way towards Angelo Dundee's bungalow, and suddenly Ali was standing in front of us. We followed him into the villa.
'He lay back on a settee, legs stretched onto a low table.
“I kicked a lot of asses, not only George's,” he said contentedly. There was a slight redness in the corner of his right eye, and the suspicion of a small bruise beneath it, but apart from those minor blemishes he was unmarked.
“All those writers who said I was washed up, all those people who thought I had nothing left but my mouth, all them who were waiting for me to get the biggest beatin' of all times: they thought George could do it for them, but they know better now.”
'It became clear that Ali had long since sensed important deficiencies in Foreman, most notably that hurt would be a new experience for him. "Did you see how George turned his head?" cried Ali. "He's not used to being hit, and he needs room to hit you. I was nervous but not afraid because nothing new could happen to me. I had been knocked down, and I had got up. I had lost fights, and I had been stunned by big punches. George didn't know none of those things. I called him a sucker when he hit me good, and asked him if that was the best he had."
Forty years ago. People are still talking about it. Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn't. It matters to me because my father, my champion, was there, and he wrote about it. It strikes me now, in a way that didn't occur to me at the time because I was too young to understand, that The Rumble in the Jungle was, is, a metaphor for life. The loser is not necessarily the guy who gets knocked down. The winner, the champion, is the guy who gets up again.


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