Why Muhammad Ali refused Foreman rematch

Sunday June 4 2017

Waigwa Kiboi (seated, centre) with Muhammad Ali in Ormudruman, Sudan, in September 1984. On Ali’s left is Jabii Herbert Muhammad,  his former manager. PHOTO | COURTESY

Waigwa Kiboi (seated, centre) with Muhammad Ali in Ormudruman, Sudan, in September 1984. On Ali’s left is Jabii Herbert Muhammad, his former manager. PHOTO | COURTESY  

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In the history of boxing “The Rumble in the Jungle” will be remembered as the most famous of sports (boxing) fairy tales.

It carried with it a number of scenarios few people could imagine First, there was George Foreman, the undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion entering the ring a huge favourite against Muhammad Ali, a former world champion.

The fight held in Zaire on October 30, 1974 started with a lot of fury. By the eighth round, Ali had effectively tamed the monster and knocked Foreman out before the round was over.

Before the Zaire fight, Foreman had butchered all 40 of his previous opponents, 37 inside the distance and carried the “invisible” tag from the moment he punched Joe Frazier off his feet. In terms of punching and body power he could easily be compared with another monster, Charles Sonny Liston whose fist remains boxing history’s biggest as 15 inches circumference. Liston had lost the title to the then Cassius clay (later Muhammad Ali) ten years earlier when he failed to continue in the seventh round.

Foreman’s loss to Ali was so devastating he buckled into the state of depression and despair. And as Tom Gray for the Ring Magazine had put it two years ago, after a period of convalescing, a rematch was top of the agenda for Foreman.

The hard-hitting Texan wanted to prove that Ali magic was an illusion and, habitually, his tormentor loved an encore. At that time Ali had fought rematches against Henry Cooper, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Frazier and Ken Norton. That pattern was about to change.

“Ali called me at home in California, just prior to my fight with Ron Lyle,” Foreman who had taken 15 months off following the defeat, told Ring Tv.com.”He said I hear you want a rematch and that is fine, but you must rehire Dick Sadler as trainer”. I said that Sadler would never work my corner again and Ali responded angrily, by saying there would be no rematch,” Foreman is quoted as having said.

Dick Sadler was a man of experience who had a distinguished ran as a professional lightweight in the 1940s before turning his hand to training fighters. It should be noted that in January 1973, under Sadler’s guidance, Foreman knocked out Frazier in two rounds for the championship and also brought an equally brutal conclusion to a title defence against Ken Norton a year later. Frazier and Norton (both deceased) had fought and defeated Ali on points only to be beaten in their rematch.

Like a Kitchen Cabinet, Foreman and Sadler, with former light heavyweight legend Archie Moore in advisory role, seemed like an unbeatable team until the Zaire fight changed everything. In what is seen as a controversial 1995 biography, entitled By George, the Hall of Fame heavyweight alleged that Sadler exhibited strange behaviour prior to and during the Rumble in the Jungle.

Foreman also claimed Sadler borrowed US $25,000 from him to bribe referee Zack Clayton. The trainer allegedly said this was to dissuade the official from disqualifying Foreman for striking Ali while he was down. Sadler and Clayton denied the claims.