All boxing fans are familiar with the "Rope a dope" strategy that Muhammad Ali utilized to shock George Foreman to regain the world heavyweight title in Zaire, Africa in 1974.
But I had never read or heard Ali explain why exactly he chose to second-guess his original strategy in favor of the unorthodox and risky "Rope a dope" plan which had never been used in the history of the sport. I recently found an old interview with Ali in PLAYBOY Magazine where "The Greatest" explains in detail why he opted to suddenly change course after the first round vs. Foreman.
"Well, I didn't really plan it. After the first round, I felt myself getting too tired for the pace of that fight, but George wasn't gonna get tired, 'cause he was just cutting the ring off on me," stated Ali. "I stayed out of the way but I figured that after seven or eight rounds of dancing like that, I'd be really tired. Then, when I'd go to the ropes, my resistance would be low and George would get one through to me. So while I was still fresh, I decided to go on the ropes and try to get George tired."
Ali, age 32 for "The Rumble In The Jungle", revealed his original gameplan to combat the undefeated 24-year-old Foreman was a mistake. "To dance every round. I had it in mind to do what I did when I was 22 but I got tired so I had to change my strategy. George didn't change his strategy, 'cause he can't do nothin but attack - that's the only thing he knows. All he wants to do is get his man in the corner, so in the second round I gave him what he wanted. He couldn't do nothin."
Ali said Foreman couldn't land any decisive hits in the second round but he kept trying and trying. "He just figured he'd get me in the next round. When he didn't do it in the third, he thought he'd get me in the fourth. Then he thought it would be in the fifth, and then in the sixth. But in the sixth round George was so tired. All of a sudden he knew he'd threw everything he had at me and hadn't hurt me at all. And he just lost all his heart."
Ali said he was able to sense Foreman losing his self-belief by the way his determination withered. "He stopped attacking the way he'd been doing. He had shots to take and he didn't take them. And then I purposefully left him some openings and he wouldn't take them. George knew he'd been caught in my trap and there wasn't but one way he could get out of it - by knocking me out. He kept trying with his last hope but he was too tired and a man of his age and talent shouldn't get used up that quick. George was dead tired. He was throwing wild punches, missing and falling over the ropes."
Foreman underestimated him in several ways, Ali concluded. "He didn't realize how hard I am to hit and how hard I can hit. He thought he was greater than me. Well, George is humble now. I did just what I told him I'd do when the ref was giving us instructions. There was George trying to scare me with his serious look - he got that from his idol Sonny Liston. And there I was telling him, 'Boy, you're in trouble. You're gonna meet the greatest fighter of all time. We here now and there ain't no way for you to get out of this ring - I gotcha! You been readin about me since you were a little boy and now you gonna see me in action. Chump, I'm gonna show you how great I am. I'm gonna eat you up! You don't stand a chance! You lose the crown tonight!"
Of course, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round with a flurry of punches, in one of the most sensational moments in the history of sports.