The other night I was watching a documentary on that famous boxing match called The Rumble in the Jungle. The fight was between Muhammad Ali (Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee) and George Foreman.
The fight was held in Kinshasa, Zaire back in 1974. This fight was crucial to Muhammad Ali who was at a career low-point after having lost his last two big fights. He now faced George Foreman, the unstoppable power-punching champion who was bent on beating Ali.
Everyone believed that there was no way Ali could beat Foreman. Foreman was a power puncher and Ali was a ‘dancer’. During practice Foreman would hit the punching bag so hard he would leave a dent when he was done.
Despite losing his last two fights and knowing the power of Foreman, Ali continued to tell the media how he was going to ‘whup’ Foreman and make him look bad. Foremen ignored the taunts confident that he could beat Ali. During his training Foreman practiced ‘cutting off the ring’ so Ali wouldn’t be able to dance away from his powerful punches.
Ali in the meantime continued to practice his ‘dancing’ and didn’t let up the verbal assaults and insults on Foreman. He was clearly asking for beating!
On fight night, both men went at it. Foreman did everything to corner off Ali so he wouldn’t dance, forcing him up against the ropes and then unloading massive punches to the body and head. Ali was clearly taking a beating on the ropes. Yet, he continued to taunt Foreman in the ring. Every time they were tied up, you could see Ali trash talking Foreman. Everyone feared Ali’s rounds were numbered and that it was a matter of time before he would go down.
Then something happened. Foreman was getting tired. By the 5th round he had punched himself out. By the 8th round he was in trouble. Out of somewhere deep inside of Ali came a barrage of punches off the ropes that pushed Foreman to the center of the ring. And with a few more punches, Ali watched as the titan known as Foreman hit the canvas floor. Ten counts later, Muhammad Ali was the champion. David had beaten Goliath.
Ali’s strategy, wasn’t to dance as he had led on, but it was to let Foreman tire himself out since he knew he couldn’t go toe-to-toe, punch-for-punch with Foreman. His now famous Rope-a-Dope strategy worked. Ali was written into history as “The Greatest” but for George Foreman, he would go into the deepest depression of his life for the next two years.
It’s easy to admire a champion like Ali because there is no denying his greatness in the sport. We as a nation admire strength and skill. We like winners. But when I look at George Foreman the Entrepreneur today, I have a deeper admiration. For here is a man who suffered one of greatest defeats in sport’s history in front of the world and yet was able to redefine himself.
Foreman has emerged as a true human champion having amassed the courage and strength within him to become a successful businessman and humanitarian. They say adversity reveals the true character of a man. Well Foreman has been revealed! And he has revealed that defeat isn’t final or fatal; that we can all make a comeback in our own way. He has revealed that success can be redefined. He has revealed to us that greatness isn’t what happens inside the ring when the whole world is watching, but what happens outside the ring when no one cares any longer.
Side Note: Foreman recaptured his title on Nov. 5, 1994 at age 45 with a 10-round KO of WBA/IBF champ Michael Moore, becoming the oldest man to win heavyweight crown. That’s character !
R. Wade Younger, CSP
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