S: So what
W: Well, Ali's
tactics, lying on and playing the ropes, befuddled Foreman. He couldn't figure
it out. "Pandemonium got into his mind," as Archie Moore said. Joe
Frazier had a nice phrase for it, too. "What George Foreman did wrong was
that he didn't do anything right."
S: So you were
W: I shouldn't
have been. But I had a lot of company. At the beginning of the year, very few
people thought that such a thing was possible. That's why this was such a good
year for Ali. Joe Frazier was just ahead of him, hardly the most secure of
stepping stones, and beyond Frazier was Foreman, the champion, refusing even to
consider Ali as a contender for his title. True, Ali had managed to revenge
himself on Norton, who had broken his jaw in the spring of 1973, which forced
him to take sustenance through a straw for a number of weeks.
S: I don't
suppose that kept him quiet.
W: Not at all.
Ali said about Norton through his wired jaw, "I took a nobody and created a
monster. I put him on The Dating Game. Now I have to punish him bad." But
his victory was a narrow one.
S: Why so much
trouble with an unknown if Ali's so great?
W: Well, Norton
has a style that can be solved—and very quickly—with a strong left hook like
Foreman's or Frazier's. But his habit of leaning back on a right foot splayed
out like Charlie Chaplin's severely limited the effectiveness of Ali's jab. To
win, Ali had to come out of his corner in the 12th and fight a final round that
he speaks of as being one of the best of his career. Certainly it was one of
the most important. Then came 1974. Ali's fight against Joe Frazier last winter
was an extension of that great psychodrama they fought in 1971—perhaps not as
dramatic since in the original fight both men came into the ring undefeated.
But it was a memorable fight. Ali beat Frazier with combinations and he used a
jab that kept Frazier off his chest—not allowing him in close where those
heavy, short punches (you'll remember that one of them, a left hook, put Ali on
the canvas in their first fight) can be so difficult to see and block. No
clowning. Ali really wanted it. It was the win over Frazier, coupled with the
huge purse offered by the government of Za�re—$5 million for each fighter—that
demanded George Foreman's attention. The stage was set for the resolution of
Ali's extraordinary year.
S: What did the
fight people think of his chances?
W: They were
skeptical. Ali had come further than anyone expected, but surely he could go no
further. Jerry Quarry said simply, " Ali has had it. He's just about at the
road's end." Dick Sadler, who is Foreman's manager, a very ebullient sort,
announced sadly, "I hate to be the one to do it [he uses the personal
pronoun in the tradition of most managers when referring to their fighters],
but Ali's gonna go. He has been a great contributor to boxing. But like all
great men, there's got to be an end, and I'm going to provide it."