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This is a serious moment at the Salle de Congres in the beautiful presidential complex on the banks of the Za�re River. It is a serious-looking hall, the sort where one might expect to find a table with a chaste flask of water for the speaker, uncomfortable chairs for the party faithful and not much else. But now the auditorium at N'Sele does duty as a gymnasium for both George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. Light filters somberly through green drapes and there is a subdued throb of music, a slow-tempo Donny Hathaway rhythm and blues tape. Listening to its beat, Foreman prowls around the ring, swinging his arms loosely, not responding to patters of polite applause from Za�rian fans lucky enough to have permits to watch him work out.
As Foreman paces, Henry Clark, ranked No. 8 heavyweight by the World Boxing Council, is tugging on his gloves. He is a massive-buttocked, thickset man. In a moment he will step into the ring to spar two rounds with Foreman, an event that has taken on the significance of a major contest in the minds of the news-starved press and every other camp follower. This is the first time in 29 days that the champion will have boxed, the first time since the cut over his right eye interrupted his training and postponed the title fight.
This moment, indeed, demands concentrated attention. It would not do, for instance, to let your glance stray through the open door behind the ring just because another show is taking place outside. For the delectation of the camp cook, assorted steel-helmeted gendarmerie, gardeners, chauffeurs and probably the upstairs maid, Muhammad Ali is prancing on the grass, making stylized magician's gestures.
"I'm magic," Ali announces and, flicking out his hand, he makes a long stick seem to appear from nowhere. Then he capers off like the Pied Piper, his giggling audience chasing after him. But he returns in a few moments, peering into the hall through the latticed stonework. Even Ali has to admit that the main event is taking place inside.
There could not be—and there is not—any serious testing of the Foreman brow. Clark connects just once with a blow of any consequence, a left to the side of the head. Most of the time he is content to dance, Ali-style, as Foreman practices cutting off the ring, cornering his man, heading him off. At the end of the second round, the champion is visibly relaxed, and he pauses to yell to two safari-suited Ali aides, "Come down to the front where you can see better."
A member of Foreman's camp notes reverently that this is the closest the champion has come to making a pleasant remark in two weeks. Everybody responds to the new mood. Adviser Archie Moore, neatly turned out in a wool yachting cap and high-decibel checked trousers held up by suspenders and with the legs tucked into his socks as if he were about to ride off on a bicycle, calls out, "Please don't eat me, Grandma." This is a reference to a mysterious covered shopping basket that Moore carries everywhere with him, the true contents of which he refuses to reveal. "I abstain from duffel bags," he says grandiloquently. "This here basket contains pieces of lion meat for me to throw into the ring for George."
Lions were on Moore's mind because last Tuesday morning, Za�re President Joseph Mobutu had presented Foreman with a lion cub. Foreman made it plain that he did not regard the gift as merely a ceremonial gesture. "He's an animal freak," said one of his entourage admiringly. "How big was it, George?" somebody asked him.
"It didn't look like no baby lion to me," Foreman said. "It's big enough to be nearly a lion. About the size of an English bulldog." The word is that he will ship it back to his ranch in California rather than hand it over to a zoo.
"This is the most outgoing Foreman has been since he came to Za�re," a friend said, and Foreman indeed gave a firm impression of a weight being taken from his shoulders. "I was worried about that cut," he said after the sparring rounds, "but now I know I'm extremely cured, physically and mentally. The time is going by good now, too. I used to be wishing it away, saying to myself, 'Hurry up, tomorrow. Come on, day after tomorrow. Come on, two weeks' time.' Now I feel at home and time doesn't worry me."