Monday, March 22, 2010

Right hand lead

Back when President Obama secured the Democratic nomination, I posted a pic of him from his 2004 Senate campaign. Here it is again:
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
Notice the poster hanging on the wall? It's from the famous Ali/Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in 1974, also known as the rope-a-dope fight. If you haven't seen the phenomenal "When We Were Kings" documentary about that fight, you're missing out. This snippet is from the film, and captures the brilliance  of Ali in that fight:

More than anything else that stuck with me from that fight is Norman Mailer explaining the right hand lead. Ali walked into that ring terrified of Foreman. But the first real punch he landed (at 3:02 if you want to skip ahead) was a right hand lead.

He lands another (3:19), and then the film cuts to Mailer explaining why this is such a big deal (3:28). In all, Ali threw 12 right hand leads in the first round. And this so enraged Foreman -- the right hand lead, among other things, was the boxing equivalent of a playground insult: you're so slow I can hit you from a mile away -- that Foreman dropped all pretense of boxing and tried to destroy Ali.

That's when the next phase of the strategy kicked in: the rope-a-dope. But it's important to note that the rope-a-dope only worked because Foreman had abandoned his game plan, stopped boxing and started fighting. By the middle of the fifth round, he had nothing left. In the eighth, well, that's the photo hanging above then-Illinois State Senator Obama's head. Update: A correspondent informs me that the photo is not, in fact, from the Ali/Foreman fight, but from the 1965 Ali/Liston rematch. (Confirmed.) Doesn't alter my overall analysis, but it does make this a slightly less useful anecdote. Oh well. 

Why am I writing about this now? In passing health care reform yesterday, President Obama showed the same strategy, patience, and timing to get the deal done. Saturday's New York Times has a terrific article about the legislative journey for both President Obama and Speaker Pelosi; and Bush appointee David Frum has an excellent conservative analysis for how the GOP played the part of Foreman to a T.

And once you're done watching When We Were Kings, do yourself a favor and watch last year's HBO documentary Thrilla in Manila. Just as good, it tells the story of the 1975 Ali/Frazier fight, mostly from Frazier's point of view. Among other things, it's the first time that Joe Frazier watched the fight from beginning to end. Ever. And the details that emerge -- about Ali, about boxing in the 70s, about Frazier -- are fascinating.


  1. Fascinating perspective and analysis, Rick. I'd never thought of it that way. Keep up the good work!

  2. There are aspects of the healthcare bill I like. I'm for universal coverage, coverage even with pre-existing conditions, etc. These are good things.

    However, I have two fundamental concerns with what has transpired:
    1. Costs - anyone that believes the cost reduction estimates is kidding themselves. Tell me a government program that has come in anywhere near estimates. There is no way that the government will find the cost reductions they are stating. And, worse yet, a big part of the costs in our current system is the result of ridiculous lawsuits, and absolutely nothing was done to address this root cause. Our country is already in terrible financial shape, and this will make it worse. Yes, I know the politicians say it will reduce the deficit. Do you seriously believe this?

    2. Process. The process utilized to get this bill passed illustrated in plain sight to everyone why our system is so broken. And, President Obama was exposed as a complete fraud. He campaigned as someone different, someone that would bring true change in the way things are done. Wrong. He's exactly like everyone else and has proven to be a complete failure. The Congressional leadership was likewise exposed to be a disgrace. Partisanship, backroom deals, pork, tone-deaf to citizens, you name it, we saw it all.

    I'm an independent who voted for Obama. He's lost my vote. And, in talking to others, I'm not alone.