SI Vault
George Plimpton
September 30, 1974
His unkind cut closed with a butterfly, Foreman coolly awaits the new fight date. His act unchanged, Ali mugs around town. Meanwhile, lightning in the Za�re sky heralds the wet season
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 30, 1974

They'll Be Swinging In The Rain

His unkind cut closed with a butterfly, Foreman coolly awaits the new fight date. His act unchanged, Ali mugs around town. Meanwhile, lightning in the Za�re sky heralds the wet season

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The boxing crowd has been subdued ever since the news of the cut over Foreman's right eye. They assemble in the lobby of Kinshasa's Inter-Continental Hotel and collect by the elevator doors in the hope that someone will come out and tell them what to do. The boxing writers are especially forlorn, wandering aimlessly among the wicker chairs in the lobby, overcome by the sort of wan melancholy that besets journalists unable to think what to write about.

Many of them arrived after long flights to discover that the fight was postponed—and that Ali and Foreman were secluded in the presidential compound 30 miles up the river at N'sele. The trip there by highway is expensive, long and not likely to produce any results. The boxers are guarded with great efficiency by both soldiers and officials of an organization called the Foreman-Ali Commission.

Foreman lives in complete seclusion on the slopes above N'sele, the roads to his quarters blocked by two sets of gate barriers manned by soldiers who stand guard at pillboxes with conical straw roofs. One writer who knew Foreman managed to reach him by phone and said he thought he could get into the camp undetected by hiding in the trunk of a public relations man's car. Foreman was dubious. He didn't know what the officials of the commission would do if they caught a reporter emerging from a car trunk. It would be better to go through more of an official procedure.

So the writers stick to the lobby of the Inter-Continental, which has been called the "living room" of Kinshasa. It is turbulent and lively at the moment with the comings and goings of those involved in the music festival that was to precede fight day with three evenings of entertainment featuring such performers as James Brown, B.B. King, the Pointer Sisters and Bill Winters. The writers watch the activity enviously.

They consult each other as the Chinese consult their ancestors. They invent rumors just to see how long it takes for them to return full circle, usually related with raised eyebrows by the person originally confided in. Sometimes they wander out to play Ping-Pong with Archie Moore, the former light-heavyweight champion, on the table beyond the swimming pool. Moore, who with Sandy Saddler, the former featherweight champion, advised Foreman, plays a very good and somewhat nonchalant brand of Ping-Pong, often with the thumb of his free hand hooked to the suspenders of his bib overalls.

Whatever news is brought in from the outside to the hotel lobby is worried over like a bone by the boxing press. One writer managed to get close enough to Foreman to ask him what he had been dreaming about. Foreman volunteered that he recalled a rather complicated dream in which he was teaching a dog how to ice skate. The writers settled into the wicker chairs to study this. The most persuasive interpretation, offered by Larry Merchant of The New York Post , was that it was a "grace envy" dream; that Foreman, manifesting his desire to be more like Ali and less of a bludgeoner, saw himself as an instructor in the art of being graceful.

A lobby scene of high drama occurred with the news of Foreman's cut. Don King, the most ambitious and visible of the promoters, tried to calm a group of reporters waiting to hear about the effect of a postponement. He offered a number of quotations about adversity. " 'Though he slay me, yet I love him.' That's Job talking to the Lord," he said in a moving voice. " 'We must look on the bright side of things.' " He held out his hands. " 'Adversity is ugly and venomous like a toad, yet it wears a precious jewel in his head,' " he cried. The press shifted uneasily. " Shakespeare," he said, ignoring the slight revision of the original. How lucky it was, he went on less dramatically, that the accident had happened a week in advance of the fight and not the day before. There was time for everyone to adjust, and now there also was an additional month in which to promote interest, King said. The fight would move from the colossal level to supercolossal. "We are turning lemons into lemonade," he shouted as he rushed away.

Others involved with the fight were less sanguine. They collected in small groups in the lobby and mighty notions were proposed—anything that might keep world attention focused on the fight throughout the delay. "Ali's our hope," they said. "We must send him out to see some tribal chiefs. Perhaps he'll get on his knees and spar with a Pygmy. Would it be a good idea if he disappeared for awhile? The whole world wondering where'd he'd got to?" And so on.

The new date set (Oct. 30), the atmosphere in the hotel calmed down. There is now considerable talk about rain, since Oct. 30 is smack-dab at the start of the rainy season. Indeed, the first guaranteed rainless date would not be until next May, which would require an awful lot of sparring matches with Pygmies. Much of the talk is about the form the rain will take.

The government officials and the promoters assure everyone that the rains are not like the monsoons of W. Somerset Maugham's writings. "Just a few daily showers, that's all; over very quickly. No problem. Besides it rarely rains at night, when the fight is going to be held." Other Kinshasa old hands disagreed. One said that he felt the chances of rain at 3 a.m. (when the fight will be staged to provide evening viewing in the U.S. on Oct. 29) were about 80%. "Much more rain at night in the beginning of the rainy season," another said. "It comes down hard and you can't see four feet in front of you, night or day."

Continue Story
1 2 3