With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history.
On this day in 1974, George Foreman knocked out Ken Norton to remain the unbeaten heavyweight champion of the world. The win set up an anticipated fight with Muhammad Ali that became known as The Rumble in the Jungle.
This was Foreman at the peak of his powers. The mighty orthodox knockout artist was 39-0 with 36 stoppages heading into his bout with Norton. Only four of his opponents had made it out of the fifth round.
Both men had memorable 1973s before this 1974 tilt.
Foreman won the WBA, WBC and lineal heavyweight titles when he dismantled Joe Frazier in two rounds in the fight that had Howard Cosell yelling “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” Then he easily defended his belts by removing Jose Roman from his consciousness in two minutes.
Norton, meanwhile, had split back-to-back fights with Ali — winning the first by split decision, breaking Ali’s jaw in the process, before being on the losing end of another split decision in the rematch.
Had Norton upset Foreman it could have set up an immediate trilogy bout with Ali, however Big George wasn’t going to let that happen.
The fight took place in Venezuela and was dubbed The Caracas Caper.
The champ stalked Norton from the opening bell, prodding at him with his giant grizzly paws while trying to corner his foe. Foreman had perhaps the heaviest hands in boxing history, so, although many of the shots he threw lacked technique, he only needed to land one to get the job done. He found the target in the second stanza and was relentless once Norton was dazed.
Foreman did something in less than two rounds that Ali could not do in 24 combined rounds.
Notably, Ali was ringside for Foreman vs. Norton and spoke these prophetic words to commentator Bob Sheridan following Foreman’s victory.
“I’ll retire George Foreman, he’s slow, he can’t hit me with that stuff, I’m a professional,” an animated Ali told Bob Sheridan, per this Boxing Insider transcript. “He hit Ken Norton just like he do all his opponents. Caught him early. I admit he hits hard but if a man can stay out of the way for five rounds, stick him, move, stay out of range, be in good shape – he’ll retire George Foreman. This man depends on getting his man in the first one or two rounds. If he don’t do that, he’s frustrated.
“Stick him with left jabs and right crosses, tie him up and box him. And you will retire him! I’m the only man to whoop George Foreman and I’m gonna whoop him in of all places Africa.”
Seven months later, Ali stopped Foreman in Zaire using his infamous rope-a-dope technique.
It remains one of the truly seminal moments in sports history and it would never have happened had Foreman not levelled Norton.