In the fourth
round Ali began to talk to Foreman. It is not easy to speak through a boxer's
mouthpiece but Ali began doing a lot of it, more as the rounds progressed, as
if it would quicken the matter of Foreman's destruction—"Is that the best
you can do? You can't punch. Show me something. That's a sissy punch"—until
he finally turned it around to what must have been a devastating thing for
Foreman to hear: "Now it's my turn."
Still there was
no change in Foreman's tactics. He kept it up, this useless exhaustion of
energy, what Bundini Brown called the "emptying of the bank," the
punches coming slower and more ponderously, until rising off his stool after
the bell and coming across the ring at Ali, he seemed as pathetic in the
single-mindedness of his attack plan as the mummies of Ali's beloved horror
films, as programmed as the stiff-moving figure lurching through the mists
after the life-giving draughts of tana leaves. Indeed, "The Mummy" had
been Ali's name for Foreman, one of the inspired appellatives Ali finds for his
opponents ("The Washerwoman" for George Chuvalo, "The Bear" for
Liston) and nothing could have been more descriptive of Foreman's groping for
him in the last rounds. "I am going to be the Mummy's Curse," Ali had
said a few days before the fight.
By the eighth
round nothing was left. Foreman was helpless. But here was another ugly
possibility, that Ali would choose to toy with his opponent and physically
tease him as he had Floyd Patterson in Las Vegas. Herbert Muhammad, the son of
the Black Muslim leader, sent up word from his ringside seat that his father
would not want Ali to play around. Bundini passed it on in the corner, that
Herbert did not want his daddy, Elijah, disgraced.
But Ali was not
toying with Foreman any more than a circling mongoose fools with a prey
exhausted from striking. In the sad business of dispatching a hulk, he did it
quickly and crisply with a combination of lefts and rights that sent Foreman
flying to the canvas on his back.
Archie Moore, his
face round and benign under his wool cap, came up onto the ring apron; he moved
along the ropes trying to attract Foreman's attention with arm motions,
signaling him to turn onto his stomach and get a knee under him to push himself
up. The count went to nine. Then Archie gave a small wince of despair as he saw
Referee Zack Clayton sweep his arms briskly back and forth over Foreman as if
he were safe at home in a baseball game.
could not remember the last seconds of the fight. He lay on the rubbing table
in his red-walled dressing room, gold lame towels draped over his shoulders,
ice packs applied to his face. He asked Dick Sadler if he had been knocked out
cold. Like a man flexing a leg that has gone to sleep, he began testing his
senses, counting slowly backwards from 100, and then calling out the names of
everyone he could think of in his camp, a doleful roll call of more than 20
names. His first answers to reporters suggested a man trying to forget a
somewhat hazy and uncomfortable dream, knowing that if he worked at remembering
it, the bad scenes would come back. He said that he was not tired, that he felt
truly he had been in control of the fight and that he had felt "secure"
until to his considerable surprise his corner-men jumped into the ring. "He
won the fight," Foreman said unsurely, "but I cannot admit that he beat
me. It's never been said that I have been knocked out."
Over and over, as
if in vindication of a program that could not have failed (it really hadn't,
had it?), he repeated that he had followed Dick Sadler's directions "to the
best of my ability." His only criticism was that "they had pumped my
head up a little too much."
Then he repeated,
at times so slowly that it seemed as if he were stumbling through a written
text, what he had so often said in dressing-room statements following his
victories: "There is never a loser. No fighter should be a winner. Both
should be applauded."
stood around uncomfortably, knowing that it would finally sink in that for the
first time in his professional career his generous words for a loser referred
The rest of
Foreman's camp seemed just as bewildered. It was almost as if black magic were
involved, that the girl from the féticheur with her "slightly trembling
hand" had indeed got to Foreman to drain the strength from him.