Remembering When Muhammad Ali Proved He Was The Real King Of Trash Talk
Silencing boxing's most brash and loud-mouthed promoter is an impossible task, unless you happen to be 'The Greatest'.
Muhammad Ali facing the press before his 1974 'Rumble in the Jungle' showdown with world heavyweight champion George Foreman, when he laid the smack down in perfect, poetic style.
After a rundown of his experience and Foreman's weaknesses, Ali's verbal jabs picked up a rhythm to match his speed in the ring: "Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick - I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
The real sting at the end was delivered directly to Don King sat grinning alongside him. The promoter had put the remarkable event together, persuading the president of Zaire to guarantee each fighter $5 million apiece - record-breaking sums at the time - to host Ali's challenge of the fearsome Foreman.
It was clear who King was backing. Infamously, he came to the ring with Joe Frazier before his 1973 title defence against Foreman and - after the challenger had blown out Smokin' Joe with six knockdowns in two rounds - he left the ring with an arm around Foreman. Arrive with the champion, leave with the champion: this was King's creed.
There appeared no doubt who'd end this fight with the title. Many still view Foreman as still the most destructive puncher boxing has ever seen. He had annihilated Frazier and Ken Norton, two boxers who held victories over Ali. Many feared for Ali's health before this contest.
Yet the 32-year-old delivered a stark warning as he turned his flashing eyes to stare at King. "All of you chumps are gonna bow when I whup him!" Ali said, waving a clenched fist inches from King's face.
"I know you got him; I know you got him picked," he said to the promoter. "But the man's in trouble! I'm gonna show you how great I am."
King's subdued response was to sit snicker, yet deep down he was probably loving Ali cranking up the hyperbole. All publicity was welcome for a mega-fight some considered a mismatch.
Plus King wasn't an easy man to genuinely intimidate. The larger-than-life promoter had once been jailed for second-degree murder for stomping to death Sam Garrett, who owed him $600. Garrett's last words were reportedly: "Don, I'll get you the money."
King had reinvented himself as a boxing entrepreneur since his prison term but his relationship with Ali in Zaire was strained. Away from the cameras, another flashpoint occurred when King blanked Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee and leaned past him to speak to Ali.
With none of the playfulness he showed for the cameras, an angry Ali stopped King in his tracks and scolded him for disrespecting a man who'd been in his corner throughout his pro career. Ali knew King was deep in Foreman's camp and that the champion retaining was desired by the promoter as much as it was expected.
The fight did not go to King's plan. Ali got in one last verbal shot at Foreman during the referee's instructions, saying: "You have heard of me since you were young. You've been following me since you were a little boy. Now you must meet me, your master!"
After that tongue lashing, Ali licked Foreman in the fight. His breathtaking tactic of leaning back on the ropes, dodging and blocking Foreman's bombs, then punishing the champion with rapid-fire blows resulted in a stunning, eighth-round knockout.
True to form, King attempted to cut through the celebrations in the ring post-fight to get to Ali but a glare from the new champion wiped the grin off his face. King would go on to promote several more Ali fights - and was once sued by Ali in 1982 - but he never got managerial control in the way he did with other boxers in his stable.
Ali went on to make 10 defences of his reclaimed world title. He lost to Leon Spinks in 1978, then won a rematch to become the first ever three-time heavyweight champ.
On this date 1978 - Muhammad Ali W 15 Leon Spinks, at Superdome, New Orleans. Wins heavyweight title for third time. https://t.co/A46AIxiAPK pic.twitter.com/4KOpDfTWAs
- Ringside Seat (@RingsideSeatMag) September 15, 2018
Ali later suffered ill-health, in part related to the punishment he took during his boxing career, before he died at age 74 in 2016.
For a time, however, it appeared that no challenge was beyond the ability of this remarkable man. Whether that be dethroning an undefeated, stronger, younger, larger foe - or performing an even greater miracle and, for a moment at least, leaving even Don King lost for words.
Featured Image Credit: PA
Featured Image Credit: PA