They called it the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Muhammad Ali fighting George Foreman in Zaire for boxing’s heavyweight championship. And Norman Mailer perfectly captured the atmosphere and emotions surrounding the Rumble in the Jungle in his book, The Fight. Mailer chose to focus mostly on Ali’s training camp and the challenges that Ali faced in fighting Foreman. Most everyone in the boxing community fully expected Ali to lose spectacularly. Many said this would be his last fight. It would be the last hurrah of the former heavyweight champion.
They were wrong. Ali won his second heavyweight championship that night. How he did it provides lessons that we can all learn in facing our own personal challenges in life.
Have the right person in your corner
Angelo Dundee was in Ali’s corner for most of his professional fights. He was there for the Rumble in the Jungle. Dundee knew that in life, it is the little things that make the difference. The little things can do great good or great harm. Of Dundee, Mailer said, “Whether he was born with the philosophy or acquired it, his faith was that no advantage could prove too small to take.” Dundee was there to inspect the ring before the fight. He made sure the ring had enough resin. He checked the posts and used shims under the floor to make the canvas tighter. On the night of the fight, Mailer even reported watching Dundee loosen the ring ropes. Because he knew that loose ring ropes would help Ali. Ali could count on Dundee to pay attention to all the little advantages that would help him in the ring.
We all fight our fights, and we all need someone in our corner encouraging us and helping to look for the advantages that we may be overlooking.
A time to dance and a time for right-hand leads
Throughout the weeks leading up to the fight, Ali repeatedly told the media that he was going to dance. Foreman trained hard to catch Ali, choosing sparring partners that could move like Ali. And yet, when the bell rang, Ali didn’t dance. He let Foreman punch on him until Foreman was exhausted. He called it rope-a dope. But that was not the only surprise of the night.
Ali came out throwing right-hand leads. It is a difficult and dangerous punch to throw, and the right hand has much farther to travel than the left. The boxer can see the right-hand punch coming and counter with a left of his own. Because of the difficulty of the punch, Foreman was taken entirely by surprise. It is a mistake to think that Ali stood in the ring for 8 rounds letting Foreman punch away. He came out fighting, throwing right-hand leads.
The pundits said it could not be done. Foreman was too dangerous of a fighter for Ali to defeat. Mailer quoted Ali, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” He believed he could win. And he was courageous enough to try. And that is the most important lesson from The Fight.