It may have been the quintessential Muhammad Ali moment – the unbreakable confidence, brilliant tactical mind and hilarious sense of humor – all combining in one spontaneous moment to express the one- of-a-kind genius of “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali.
The setting is on the ring apron in Caracas, Venezuela, moments after George Foreman totally annihilated Ken Norton in less than two rounds on March 26, 1974, Muhammad Ali watched the devastating knockout of a man who he had to box 24 rounds against in order to achieve one win and one loss, including a broken jaw. You would have thought Muhammad Ali would have been impressed and even a little intimidated by the powerhouse performance exhibited by the seemingly unbeatable George Foreman. But no, Ali refused to let a shred of doubt enter his mind.
In this edition of Memory Lane, Col. Bob Sheridan interviews a suit and tie wearing Muhammad Ali for TV just moments after Foreman destroyed Norton in what is one of the most strikingly memorable and persuasive interviews in boxing history…
Bob Sheridan: “Tell me about that fight.”
Muhammad Ali: “[Practically shouting as he faces out to the ringside crowd] I’ll retire George Foreman, he’s slow, he can’t hit me with that stuff, I’m a professional. He hit Ken Norton just like he do all his opponents. Caught him early. [Yelling more forcefully now] I admit he hits hard but if a man can stay out of the way for five rounds, stick him, move, stay out of range, be in good shape – he’ll retire George Foreman. This man depends on getting his man in the first one or two rounds. If he don’t do that, he’s frustrated. [Now yelling even more emphasis] Stick him with left jabs and right crosses, tie him up and box him. And you will retire him! I’m the only man to whup George Foreman and I’m gonna whup him in of all places Afridca. In the Congo, where the Lumumba boys are.”
Bob Sheridan: “Now that you have your cool about you and you’ve calmed down at this point, I want you to answer this question: How could that man (Norton) go 24 rounds with you – and only two with the heavyweight champion of the world?”
Muhammad Ali: “Cause George Foreman is not as good a fighter scientifically as I am. But I admit he stronger and he hit harder. I’m not a hard puncher, I’m not known for being a hard puncher. [Yelling again] I fought many men like Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, who were stronger than I am. Many (said) I coouldn’t knock out Sonny Liston. But I will tell you this. Boxing ability! Speed! Whoopin him on points! For the distance if necessary! Then I’ll whup him.”
Bob Sheridan: “Well, fighting in your home territory – you couldn’t be any happier the way this is coming up in September (fight was delayed till October because Foreman suffered a sparring cut).
Muhammad Ali: “Why would you call Africa my home territory?”
Bob Sheridan: “You’ve been telling me that for ten years.”
Muhammad Ali: “Well that’s right. And if you come over talking like that, we’ll cook you!” [Ali shows a playful half smile, half glare and then walks away to end the interview in the Ali style.]
Bob Sheridan: “That’s it from Muhammad Ali…”
Just incredible how Ali willed himself to believe he would destroy Foreman when it could not have looked more bleak for him. A considerable underdog, many ring observers feared for his well being at the hands of the mighty wrecking machine George Foreman. The classic Ali – Foreman fight in Zaire, Africa is still shown regularly to this day on ESPN Classic. It is obviously one of those special sporting events that viewers can just keep on watching over and over and over…
Those were the days weren’t they? When the best fought the best with no BS. And the fights lived up to the expectations and well beyond.
Our next “Memory Lane” edition will be the Lennox Lewis interview with Larry Merchant moments after the Vitali Klitschko TKO win in Los Angeles in 2003.