In the city of Kinshasa, Zaire, Ali faced George Foreman, the reigning world heavyweight champion. Foreman dominated the ring, winning 37 of his 40 bouts by knockout. Weeks before the fight, Ali had captured the heart of the Zaire people when he cast Foreman as a brute. Foreman, never the showman Ali was, believed his record would speak for itself.
Considered one of the hardest hitters in the history of boxing, Foreman punched his way through the early rounds with little resistance from Ali.
Muhammad ducked the worst of his punches, leaning against the ropes, protecting his face with his elbows, a technique that later came to be known as "rope-a-dope." This technique served to lessen the effect of Foreman's punches.
The tactic continued throughout the seventh round. Ali fans were subdued, discouraged to watch their champion do nothing to defend himself. Ali provoked the raging Foreman with sarcastic jabs, taunting him, "Is that all you got George? and You supposed to be bad!" Foreman let loose his rage, landing tremendous body shots, determined to make Ali pay a price for his antics.
No one knew it at the time, not his trainer Angelo Dundee, nor us, his devoted fans, but Muhammad Ali had a plan that was secretly unfolding before our eyes.
I remember that day, although I don't recall seeing the fight until years later, rebroadcast on the Sports Channel, but in my heart I was there, sitting ringside, lamenting my hero.
Ali knew Foreman relied on phenomenal strength to overpower an opponent and had rarely gone the distance. He believed that could be his Achilles heel and concluded that the only smart thing to do was wear him out. When Foreman became tired, overconfident because Ali was not fighting back, that's when he would make his move.
Ali was willing to let us see him as a failure because he never saw himself that way. Isn't that the heart of a true champion? To quietly go about doing what must be done, having enough confidence in themselves not to feel like they need to prove anything?
Although I believe failure was never an option in Ali's mind, he was willing to be seen as one, willing to be put under the microscope in front of the whole world. How many of us would be willing to be seen in this light? To be viewed as a failure before those who admire us? Ali was so sure of himself he was willing to try.
Not long into the eighth round, George Foreman's energy finally spent, staggered. Ali sprang from the ropes and landed three beautifully-timed punches. Foreman twirled in a slow pirouette and fell. The fight was over.
Sometimes when we allow ourselves to be quiet about what we know and silently go about mastering our opponent, we can impart something to others. Ali did that. He was an example to each of us - willing to be seen as nothing, to become the greatest. Ali said it then, even if he didn't mean it at the time. He was the greatest.
Ali didn't surrender that evening; our vision of him had. When he lifted the veil from our eyes we were filled with admiration. Perhaps he could have won that fight, as he had so many others, but that battle, the one Ali came back to win, stands out as one of his greatest. A victory like that can have such a long-lasting effect.
I think that's what each of us should do. We should never be afraid to be seen as nothing in order to become something greater than we ever imagined we could be. Remembering if we only follow our convictions, each challenge, every obstacle before us, can be overcome to impact the lives of others.
Always the Glory, Only the Glory,
Copyright © 2007 Doug West