Sunday, 3 February 2008

DeAgostini's Boxers: Muhammad Ali - DVD Review

A couple of years ago I reviewed the first few issues of DeAgostini’s “Boxers” DVD magazine series. It had originally been my intention to review the issues as they came out, but my plans changed a little as time went on.

But now I’ve decided to make a return journey to the series. With numerous great fights from over the years now in my DVD collection, I thought I’d take a regular look at some of these fights every now and again, and for my first review, I’m going to take a look at two fights from one of my personal heroes, and a man who really needs no introduction - Muhammad Ali. The Boxers series featured two discs dedicated to the great man, although there were other Ali fights featured in other compilations.

The first fight we’re going to look at took place on February 25th, 1964 in Miami, as Ali, then known by his birth name of Cassius Clay (although I’ll refer to him as Ali throughout this article) challenged Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship. Hardly anyone outside of Ali’s camp gave him a chance in this contest. 

I’ve watched this fight on numerous occasions, and it just keeps getting better every time. Ali was clearly the better fighter in the opening rounds, and a fast combination wobbled Liston in the third, and it wasn’t long before Ali opened up a cut below Liston’s left eye, although the champion soon had the cocky challenger on the back foot, making him look vulnerable for the first time in the fight.

The fourth round reverted to type as it were. Ali was, for the most part, just too fast for Liston, whose jab now puffed his right eye. But it was at the end of the round that the controversial moment happened. Ali was having trouble seeing, and later the claim was that there was some substance on Liston’s gloves. It was obvious in the fifth round that Ali was having trouble seeing, and this gave Liston the chance he was looking for, although he was still able to use his speed to keep some distance between himself and the champion, and he seemed to recover a little as the round progressed. 

By the sixth round, Liston had slowed down considerably, and seemed to have no answer to Ali’s jab as he threw it from all angles. Liston looked a beaten man as he went back to his corner, and moments later it was all over. As the seventh round began, Liston was stopped from coming out of his corner due to a dislocated shoulder, and Ali was the new champion.

It was a perfect performance from Ali, ecstatic as he caused one of the biggest upset in boxing history, and his post-fight interviews are evidence of just how great a talker he’ll become. His trainer, Angelo Dundee, then announced that Ali will be the best thing to ever happen to boxing. 

The second fight on this disc took place ten years later in Kinshasa, Zaire, as Ali challenged World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman in the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle”. As with the Liston fight, nobody gave Ali a chance against the heavy hitting champion. In a ringside interview with David Frost, Joe Frazier predicted that Foreman would win. 

Ali began the fight quickly, although Foreman’s tactics were obvious from the start - to batter his opponent senseless. The first two rounds were fought at a frenetic pace, with Ali fighting with his back to the ropes, and both men getting off some good combinations. Foreman seemed to slow down in the third, and was hurt by an Ali combination.

By the time the fourth round began, the fight became compelling to watch. Although Ali was still scoring with some good punches, he was still fighting against the ropes, and allowing Foreman to score with punches at will, holding on to him whenever he could. To the untrained eye of the day it must have looked like Ali was losing it, although in hindsight we know that wasn’t the case.

The fifth round saw Foreman unloading on Ali constantly, and looking visibly tired as the round went on, although he was able to come back strongly towards the end of the round, staggering the champion with some mighty blows. At the end of the road David Frost commented that he didn’t understand the tactics the Ali was using, allowing Foreman to hit him while he stayed on the ropes.

Round six, and with Foreman’s face starting to look puffy, Ali’s confidence seemed to grow while he continued with his tactic of staying against the ropes. Indeed, between the rounds Angelo Dundee had requested that the ropes be tightened. Again, we now know why this was. Ali was more or less telling Foreman to hit him, taunting him, while getting of some more shorts in between Foreman’s ever weakening offence. By the time of the seventh round, Foreman looked exhausted, and his punches looked extremely weak. He continued to stalk the champion all over the ring, but lacked the killer instinct and the power to finish him off. At ringside, Jim Brown told David Frost that he thought Ali’s performance was amazing, and that Foreman was starting to lose it.

In round eight, the commentator finally saw what Ali’s tactic was, saying that it was probably for Foreman to punch himself out. And he was right. With Foreman now looking like he couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag, Ali went to work, and a series of right hands sent the champion crashing to the canvas. Unable to beat the count, Ali had won the World Heavyweight title for the second time. At ringside, David Frost announced that this was one of the greatest fights of all-time, and he was right. Although Ali’s tactics infuriated his trainers, they worked to perfection.

One couldn’t help but feel sorry for George Foreman as he left the ring. There seemed to be hundreds of people trying to get into the ring to mob the new champion. Foreman would say in an interview years later that at that moment in time he felt like the loneliest man in the world.

In the post-fight interview with David Frost, Ali gave a hell of an interview, full of emotion, as he went about proclaiming his greatness, and revealed exactly what his tactics were, and how he taunted Foreman throughout the fight.

This release was the first in the Boxers series, and I have to admit it was a hell of a way to start off the series. No matter how many times I watch these two fights, they just get better and better each and every time. These are without a doubt two of the greatest fights in the history of the heavyweight division, and I truly doubt that we’ll see the like of these again.

I’m pretty sure that these two fights are widely available on DVD and online. But if you really want to know about the Rumble in the Jungle, I’d suggest watching the “When We Were Kings” documentary, a remarkable piece of film making if ever there was one. Also highly recommended is Michael Mann’s film “Ali”, with Will Smith giving a tremendous performance as the great man. If you’re a true fan of boxing though, and you haven’t seen these two fights before, then do so.

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