History shows that Ali was one of, if not the, greatest boxer of all time. History has a strange ability to gloss over important facts though. Nothing was easy for Ali. When he was at his peak he was stripped of his belt and banned from fighting for years. When he returned he faced an uphill battle to the top. His win over George Foreman remains one of the greatest sporting achievements in history.
Ali was an incredible fighter but he was older and past his best. He had been stripped of his heavyweight title and had his boxing license revoked for refusing to be drafted into the US army.
After his comeback, it was clear Ali was not the same fighter. He was older and slower, lacking the same power. Since his comeback to the ring, he had already lost twice, to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. While he went on to defeat Frazier there were still doubts about how good the man was after his return.
On the other hand, George Foreman was at the top of his game. He was 26 years old and a fearsome fighter. He had crushed Joe Frazier in only two rounds in 1973. The fight started to grow in appeal as it became almost like a living myth. The once-great hero battling against the injustice of his belt being stripped versus a young and vicious fighter. To add to the drama the fight had to be delayed as Frazier had a cut above his eye in training. Ali took the opportunity to tour Zaire and everywhere he went he attracted more followers and took more shots at Foreman in the media.
The fight was an epic encounter in the humidity of Zaire. While Ali started well he quickly realized he could not keep up with the energy and power of Foreman. He adjusted his tactic and lay on the ropes to dodge the punches of Foreman. The rope a dope in full effect. It worked well and by the 8th round, Foreman was visibly tired. Ali started to take over the fight, eventually hitting Foreman with such force that he barely got up within the 9-second count. Even though he managed to stand, the referee saw he could not continue and called the fight over.
Ali had achieved the impossible. He had summoned the power and strength of a young man, combined with the experience and smarts of an older man to become the heavyweight champion of the world again, 7 years later.