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Muhammad Ali’s five greatest fights: From the Thrilla in Manila to the Rumble in the Jungle

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Muhammad Ali’s five greatest fights: From the Thrilla in Manila to the Rumble in the Jungle

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The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Muhammad Ali (left) and George Foreman in Kinshasa on October 30, 1974 AFP/Getty

Muhammad Ali shocked the world to win the heavyweight world title in 1964. From then on he retained the belt in sweet win after sweet win, predicting the rounds and beating every man with ease. 

While other heavyweights have won as underdogs and kept their title, no fighter had ever delivered the glitz, the brilliance and the words like Ali. He was a one-man revolution and that means he made enemies faster than any boy-fighter could handle. 

From the controversial and widely anticipated Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston fight to the Rumble in the Jungle, deemed “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”, Ali was involved in some of the most historic boxing matches of his time.

Muhammad Ali dies aged 74

The Thrilla in Manila. World heavyweight title. The third and final instalment in the Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier trilogy and by far the most brutal. Frazier was pulled out at the end of the 14th round. “The fight was the closest thing to death,” Ali said at the end. He was right.

Ali was Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston was the heavyweight champion of the world, the betting favourite and expected to kill Clay. There was genuine fear that a death would occur. Clay won when Liston refused to come out for round seven. “What are you gonna say now, huh?” Ali to reporters after the fight.

The Rumble in the Jungle. Ali was once again the underdog when he met George Foreman for the world heavyweight title at dawn in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Foreman was unbeaten and untouchable, but unravelled and Ali won by knockout in the eighth to regain the title. “Muhammad Ali amazed me: I’ll admit it,” Foreman said after the fight.

Ali had lost his title to Leon Spinks seven months earlier and the rematch was considered a fight too far even for Ali. On the night Spinks was a mess and Ali won the world heavyweight title for the third time. “Losing to Spinks hurt the most, winning was sweet,” Ali said after the fight.

The Fight of the Century. Ali had been in exile, Joe Frazier had become champion and the two unbeaten fighters met at Madison Square Garden in New York over 15 torrid rounds. Ali lost a tight decision, but it was a stunning performance. “Frazier was harder for me than Liston or Foreman,” Ali said long after the fight.

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