On October 29, 1974, George Foreman defended the heavyweight championship of the world against Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa at “The Rumble in the Jungle,” a fight that would rightly achieve legendary status and go down as one of the most monumental events in boxing history.
That night in what was then known as Zaire, a 25-year-old Foreman looked to unleash hell on a 32-year-old Ali, who had gone through 24 rounds of grueling combat with Ken Norton in 1973, splitting a pair of decisions, followed by a win over Joe Frazier in their Jan. 1974 rematch. Ali wasn’t thought to be the same fighter he’d once been, and Foreman was absolutely ferocious. He’d also recently faced Frazier and Norton, and destroyed them both within two rounds. In fact, Foreman hadn’t gone past the second round since 1971, when Luis Faustino Pires went four before the referee stopped it at Madison Square Garden.
For all intents and purposes, Foreman had never been seriously tested in the ring. He was a bulldozer, and he was coming to put the great Muhammad Ali out to pasture.
Of course, without going too far into that fight, that didn’t happen. Ali executed what would become known as the famed “rope-a-dope” strategy, badly tiring the younger, more aggressive man before knocking a completely gassed Foreman out in eight to reclaim his crown.
Foreman was never really the same. He’d come back with good wins over Ron Lyle and Frazier, but a 1977 decision loss to Jimmy Young sent Big George into retirement for 10 full years.
In 1987, he came back, hoping to mount an unlikely comeback as he neared his 38th birthday. From 1987-1990, Foreman won 24 straight fights, not exactly fighting the elite of the division, before receiving a shot at champion Evander Holyfield in 1991.
Holyfield beat Foreman by decision to retain the title, and it really seemed as though that should have been it for Foreman, who was now 42 and had made his final run, given it his best shot, and fallen short against a new generation of heavyweight star.
But Foreman didn’t quit there. He won a trio of fights in 1991-93 before fighting Tommy Morrison for the vacant WBO title — the WBO at that time was still considered a fringe sort of title, which would change in the coming years. Foreman again came up short, losing a wide decision.
Foreman probably should have quit there, too. Once more, he didn’t. He saw an opening not long after, when Michael Moorer beat Holyfield in April 1994 to win the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. Foreman called out Moorer, despite having lost his last fight, after Moorer had indicated no real desire to face WBC titleholder Lennox Lewis to reunify the three major titles.
Foreman, once a ruthless fighter with a mean personality to match, had become in his comeback years a big ol’ teddy bear to the public. He was kind and likable, and, well, he was a chunky old guy with a much-expressed fondness for cheeseburgers. Even as a sports legend, there was a blue collar charm to the “new” George Foreman. That gave him value, and that meant that Moorer would accept Foreman’s challenge.
The WBA didn’t have Foreman ranked at the time, so they attempted to stop the bout by threatening to strip Moorer if he took it. In the end, after the fight was briefly canceled, Foreman fought back against the WBA and won, so on Nov. 5, 1994, the fight billed as “One for the Ages” was on.
Foreman, now just a couple months shy of his 46th birthday, scaled at 250 pounds even for the fight, with the 26-year-old Moorer came in at 222, a week shy of his next birthday. Moorer had actually turned pro as a light heavyweight back in 1988, but had bulked up to heavyweight by 1991. And he presented a tricky southpaw style for Foreman to solve along with every other advantage.
Foreman had admitted that “The Rumble in the Jungle,” which was just passing its 20th anniversary, had been on his mind. He wore the same trunks he’d worn that night in Kinshasa, and he had Angelo Dundee, Ali’s old trainer, in his corner.
Moorer gave Foreman fits, as most expected would happen. He was younger, much faster, much more capable of actually putting combinations together, and far more mobile. Foreman had one strategy: absorb as much punishment as he could stand and find an opening for one clean right hand, hoping that would be enough.
Moorer trainer Teddy Atlas was totally aware of the strategy, which was plain to see. He consistently advised Moorer not to wade in against the veteran, because all Foreman had as a chance was that one right hand, if Moorer got into range for it and left an opening for the old man.
Nine rounds went by and Moorer was pretty well in control. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but he had mostly been able to touch Foreman up without a whole lot of continued offense coming back. The champ led 88-83 on two scorecards, which was pretty realistic, and judge Duane Ford had Moorer up 86-85, which was probably giving Foreman more credit than he really deserved.
Going into the 10th round, Dundee didn’t sugarcoat it for his fighter. “You gotta put this guy down,” he told Foreman. “You’re behind, baby.”
Halfway into the round, Gil Clancy, who was sitting in on HBO in place of Foreman, remarked, “You have to give him all the credit in the world — again, he’s a 45-year-old man in a young man’s game.” Foreman had been having some success setting up shots in that 10th round, and though it all still seemed so unlikely, Clancy would add, “Look at that competitive spirit coming out now.”
About 15 seconds after Clancy started that statement about Foreman’s age, Big George landed the right hand.
Moorer was down.
And Moorer was out.
“It happened — it happened!” Jim Lampley exclaimed.
“I can’t believe it,” Clancy replied. “I can’t believe it. Here’s a guy we said, I said, was a clubber—” and then he cut himself off, allowing the audience to soak in the moment as Foreman hit his knees in prayer in the corner.
“This is a really remarkable achievement, and it has to stand on its own,” Larry Merchant said. “We’re in a show-and-tell medium, and show does it all.”
“You’ve got a 45-year-old heavyweight champion of the world!” Lampley chimed in.
“Here at the MGM Grand, the impossible has happened, heavyweight history has happened,” ring announcer Michael Buffer said over the PA. “Referee Joe Cortez reaches the count of 10 at two minutes, three seconds of round number 10. The winner, and once again heavyweight champion of the world, Big George Foreman!”
Simply put, it just wasn’t supposed to happen. But it did.
“For all my old buddies in the nursing home, and all the guys in jail, always remember that song: when you wish upon a star, doesn’t matter who you are, anything your heart desires can come to you if you just don’t give up on your dreams,” Foreman told Merchant after the fight.
Foreman had indeed gotten some measure of closure on what happened in Kinshasa, in some ways using the same strategy Ali had used against him. He took the best Moorer could give him, landed meaningful power shots at the right times, and eventually, he found the home run shot. He had knocked out a younger, quicker, fresher man.
Foreman would wind up stripped of the WBA title without ever defending it, as his mandatory challenger, Tony Tucker, was a Don King fighter and Foreman wanted nothing to do with King. Instead, he’d keep the IBF belt and fight Axel Schulz in April 1995, winning a debated majority decision. Foreman refused an ordered rematch, but he went on as the LINEAL!!!! heavyweight champion with wins over Crawford Grimsley in 1996 and Lou Savarese in 1997, the latter a split decision. Finally, Shannon Briggs beat Foreman by majority decision in Nov. 1997, and Foreman hung up the gloves for good.
Moorer never again reached the heights he had before the loss to Foreman. He remained a contender for a period, beating Schulz and Frans Botha in 1996, and Vaughn Bean in 1997, before being absolutely wiped out by Evander Holyfield in Nov. 1997 in a WBA/IBF title fight. Moorer didn’t fight again until a comeback in 2000, which was cut down via 30-second knockout against David Tua in 2002, and he lost a decision to Eliseo Castillo in 2004.
That same year, Moorer did score a good win over Vassily Jirov, rallying from a big deficit for a ninth round stoppage, and he last fought in 2008, beating South Carolina club fighter Shelby Gross in a 32-second fight in Dubai. Moorer retired with a career record of 52-4-1 (40 KO).
25 years later, Foreman remains the oldest man to ever win a world heavyweight title, and is still to this day one of boxing’s most beloved figures. Foreman wrapped his legendary career with a record of 76-5 (68 KO), and as a true legend of the squared circle.