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November 09, 2009
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November 09, 2009

The Vault

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Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | Nov. 11, 1974

Ringmaster

The Greatest reached deep into his bag of tricks

To tire out George Foreman, Muhammad Ali used a curious strategy—which he later termed the rope-a-dope—then knocked out the heavyweight champ in the eighth round of their title fight. George Plimpton reported from Kinshasa, Zaire.

For one sickening moment it looked as if a fix were on, that since the challenger was to succumb in the first round, it would be best if he went quickly to a corner so the champion could go to work on him. It was either that or Ali was going through the odd penitential rite he seems to insist on for each fight, letting himself suffer the best his opponent has to offer. In either case, the consequences were appalling to consider. Ali's cornermen rose as one, and they urged their man to stop what he was doing and start dancing.

Far from obliging, Ali moved from the corner to the ropes. Here was Ali, his feet square to his opponent, leaning far back out over the seats, his eyes popping wide as if at the temerity of what he was doing, while Foreman stood in front of him and began to punch—huge heavy blows thrown from down around the hips, street-fighter style, telegraphed so that Ali was able to slip and block many of them. Then, with the bell coming up for the end of the round, Ali came off the ropes. While Foreman's arms were down in punching position, Ali hit him with a series of quick, smart punches in the face, the best of them a right hand lead that knocked the sweat flying in a halo. The vast crowd roared, and perhaps there were a few who began to sense that they were not in for a night of lunacy after all.

Ali would have 14 more fights (11 of them victories) in a 61-bout career that ended in 1981, but he never faced Foreman again.

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