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.