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Boxing: Kinshasa still rumbles with Ali-Foreman bout.

Kinhasa: The Tata Raphael stadium looks as though it has lost a few rounds against Muhammad Ali in the 40 years since it staged the greatest boxing fight in history. The terraces, which were packed with 100,000 people for "The Rumble In The Jungle", are falling apart. Water leaks into the gyms where Ali and George Foreman trained for their epic fight. But Kinshasa, capital of one of the poorest countries in the world, remains proud of having staged one of the most important sporting events of the 20th century on October 30, 1974. Then the world was scared that Ali -- aged 32 and fighting his way back to the top after his ban for refusing to fight in the US Army -- would suffer a humiliating beating by the fearsomely powerful George Foreman, the defending world champion. Ali soaked up the pressure for seven rounds, taunting his opponent all the time, and then knocked him out in the eighth with a lightning right hook. Ali became a legend. Now each day, dozens of men, women and children still train in the stadium. After work and school they practice hooks and simulate fights, often without gloves and when they are still hungry. Stadium security chief Abdelaziz Saliboko Serry took up boxing after watching Ali and Foreman. "I was a good boxer but my father forced me to give up and study. I would still like to box, but I'm over 50 now so I can't. I could have made a name like Muhammad Ali," he said. Ali won the fight and also the hearts of the people of DR Congo, which was then known as Zaire. "Ali was one of us. We considered him a Zairean who was living in America. Foreman did not like contact with black people. He did not like this population and that was a factor in his defeat," added Serry. Guy Lioki, now 50 and a referee in amateur boxing tournaments, twice came across Foreman -- who had already aggravated the local population by arriving on his plane accompanied by two German Shepherd dogs which evoked memories of the brutal rule of their former colonial masters Belgium -- before the fight when a child. "Foreman was too moody, even if he was black like us. He stayed with the important people and was really interested in the women," he said. Judex Tshibanda remembers Ali coming to box with the local children. "We tried to hit him. I got him once in the stomach," said the 52-year-old who became a boxer himself and now trains young fighters. Ali completely won the occasion. Even his pre-bout quote deriding Foreman, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee -- his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see," has gone down in sporting folklore. Foreman was totally out of place while Ali, a divisive figure in the United States even though he became a symbol of the fight against segregation in his homeland, felt entirely at home. Dictator's Gift Mobutu Sese Seko was the other key figure. He agreed to part finance the bout organised by American promoter Don King. It was priceless global propaganda for the country's dictator. Posters put up across Kinshasa proclaimed "A gift from President Mobutu to the Zairiean people and an honour to the black man." Even the venue was then known as the May 20 Stadium after the date of the creation of Mobutu's ruling party in 1967 and also played host to less welcome violence as opponents of the regime were tortured there. The bout should have taken place in September, but had to be put back when Foreman injured a hand in training. A three day music festival featuring James Brown, BB King and Manu Dibango had even been organised leading up to the first date. While the stadium was packed to the rafters for the fight, Mobutu watched a special live television broadcast in his palace. The bout started at 4:00am local time so that US television channels could show it live. "Ali boma ye" (Kill him Ali), the crowd chanted. The slogan inspired Ali, even though his efforts to repeat the phrase with his thick American accent caused hilarity among Zaireans. "It was an extraordinary knockout," recalled Felix Mputu, 71, who had refereed some of the amateur fights that preceded the Ali-Foreman duel. Mputu believes Foreman lost because he was too physical. "He hit too hard!" "That is not what boxing should be, there has to be the spectacle. Muhammad Ali is a stylist, a technician," said Mputu of the boxing legend, now 72, who has been brought to his knees by Parkinson's disease. Five memorable boxing bouts Julio Cesar Chavez v Meldrick Taylor -- March 17 1990 Labelled by Ring Magazine as 'the fight of the 1990's' 27-year-old Chavez -- known as 'The Great Mexican Champion' and already a three-time world champion at three different weights -- took on Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor -- a gold medal winning member of the great USA 1984 Olympic team -- in a light welterweight clash labelled 'Thunder meets Lightning'. For once the two pugilists matched the hype producing an enthralling no holds barred contest which despite sustaining serious physical damage saw 23-year-old Taylor hold a convincing lead on two judges cards going into the final round. However, Taylor instead of playing safe and staying out of danger opted to continue trading blows with Chavez who needed a knockout to win. Taylor looking increasingly unsteady finally went down and with just two seconds remaining referee Richard Steele controversially stopped the fight after twice asking him if he was okay. Marvin Hagler v Sugar Ray Leonard--April 6 1987 Steele was also in the ring for this epic between two of the quartet -- the others being Thomas 'The Hitman' Hearns and Roberto 'Hands of Stone' Duran -- that light up the ring with their various battles at welterweight and middleweight in the late 70's and part of the 80's. 'Marvellous' Marvin Hagler had not been beaten in 11 years and had made 12 successful defences of his WBC belt. Leonard came out of retirement -- he had fought just once in a brief comeback after hanging up his gloves in 1982 because of a detached retina -- after seeing Hagler labour to victory over John 'the Beast' Mugabi. Hagler -- at 32 two years older than his opponent -- got the bigger part of the purse but Leonard was able to set the conditions for the fight and made it a 12 round rather than 15 round bout. Just as well as having started the more effective he tired and Hagler finished the stronger. In a contentious decision the flashier Leonard won a split decision. Hagler -- who never fought again -- claimed Leonard had said to him pre the announcement that he had won but Leonard denied this saying he had simply commented 'you are a great champion'. Jack Johnson v Jim Jeffries--July 4 1910 Johnson became the first black heavyweight world champion in 1908 having eventually coerced the then champion Tommy Burns of Canada into fighting in Sydney. Jeffries had when he was champion always refused to fight Johnson, but white supremacists -- who were fearful that Johnson's success could inspire African Americans to lobby for greater civil freedoms -- were so desperate to reclaim the crown they persuaded him to take a break from his farming career and return to the ring. Jeffries. though, was no longer the fighter that had held the title from 1899 to 1905 retiring undefeated and never having been put on the deck. Tensions were so high none of the 20,000 spectators were allowed to bring either guns or alcohol to the bout. The fight lasted 15 rounds but there was never really a doubt about the winner as Johnson put Jeffries down twice. His victory prompted riots in 25 states -- mainly whites angry at the African Americans celebrating. Ironically Johnson was no more flexible than his white predecessors and on several occasions declined black challengers on the whites only challenger rule. Mike Tyson v James 'Buster' Douglas--February 11 1990 It looked like another stroll in the park for 'Iron' Mike, who even though he was being beset by personal problems and demons that ultimately would consume him, was still the undisputed heavyweight champion while Douglas was ranked a lowly seven on the heavyweight list. However, the fight in Tokyo didn't pan out atall as Douglas produced the performance of his life motivated by the death of his mother three weeks previously. Despite having Douglas down in the eighth round -- much debate festers over the length of time the challenger was down for with some feeling it was longer than 10 seconds -- it was clear that for the first time an opponent had Tyson rattled and Douglas knocked him to the canvas for the first time in his career in the 10th and he was counted out. While Tyson was to regain the world title later as ESPN opined at the time "the mystique of the untouchable, invincible 'Baddest Man on the Planet' had been shattered." Max Schmeling v Joe Louis--June 22 1938 If ever there was a 'Good' versus 'Evil' this was the bout, a heavyweight world title fight with the champion Louis representing the free world and former champion Schmeling -- who had inflicted Louis' first career defeat in a non-title fight in 1936 -- the Nazi regime in Germany. This time round though Schmeling, nine years Louis' senior, could not overcome the hostile atmosphere in Yankees Stadium nor a pulverising display by Louis which saw the bout last less than a round. Schmeling was disowned by the Nazis on his return -- for Louis had like another African American Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin destroyed their Aryan supremacy ideal. "Looking back, I'm almost happy I lost that fight. Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal. After the war I might have been considered a war criminal," said Schmeling who lived to the grand old age of 99.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Oct 28, 2014
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