• October 30 down the years

The Rumble in the Jungle

Muhammad Ali's 'rope-a-dope' tactics outfoxed George Foreman © Getty Images

The iconic fights' iconic fight. The Rumble in the Jungle. The night Muhammad Ali slew the ogres' ogre when people expected him to be chewed up and spat out. His comeback after three years away had ended in conclusive defeat by Joe Frazier three years earlier (March 8), and this was his first world title fight since then. Facing him was the biggest baddest heavyweight on the planet. George Foreman was unbeaten in 34 pro fights. He'd won the world title by flattening Joe Frazier six times in less than two rounds, and his two defences had lasted four minutes. In the second, he'd pulverised a visibly nervous Ken Norton, who'd broken Ali's jaw in beating him the year before. There were genuine fears for Ali's safety. He was 32 by then and didn't float like a butterfly any more. It was hard to see how he could stay away from Big George's punches for long. Foreman looked one-dimensional in training, spending most of his time banging away at punchbags with both hands. But who needs two dimensions when your only one is as destructive as this: all but two of his fights had ended in knockouts, almost always very early knockouts. The fight with Ali was staged in Kinshasa in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was ruled by Joseph-Désiré Mobuto, who wanted to show the world that his vicious and greedy dictatorship was a modern forward-looking state. So he wasn't impressed when Ali announced to Foreman that 'My African brothers is going to boil you in the pot.' The spectators did chant 'Ali booma ye' (Ali kill him) - but it was all in fun, of course. Well, Ali didn't kill anyone - but, to some people's surprise, nor did Foreman. Out of nowhere, quite unexpectedly, Ali unveiled his 'rope a dope' tactic of leaning way back on the ropes and allowing Foreman to hit him, the last thing anyone in boxing would have fancied. A blend of brilliant lateral thinking and great courage, it was intended to sap the strength from Foreman's big arms. But Ali knew he'd have to bear some serious pain before it succeeded. He admitted later he was never hit so hard in his career. But Foreman couldn't keep hitting for long. After all those quick wins, he simply didn't have the conditioning to go any distance. A lot of his stamina went into untangling himself from all the holding Ali was doing - and he was visibly knackered by the end of the eighth round, really only pawing at Ali in the corner. Even so, the end was shockingly sudden. Ali decided it was time to vacate the ropes - and throw a few punches on the way. As Foreman struggled to defend himself, a left and right to the face sent him spinning towards the canvas. Ali had the chance to throw an extra punch but probably realised there was no need: Foreman was much more exhausted than hurt when he was counted out with only two seconds of the round to go. He made one of the great unlikely comebacks, fighting for a world title 20 years later, by which time he was big smiley George who sold grill pans. Ali became the first heavyweight to win the world title three times, but only because he was careless enough to lose it to a cartoon character instead of an ogre (February 15 1978).

Olga Korbut cried after falling off the asymmetric bars - and became a worldwide star. Actually she was already one. During the team competition at these Olympic Games, crowd and TV audience were captivated by this 17-year-old elfin gymnast. Olga Korbut was invariably referred to as elfin. This meant small. Under five foot tall and only six stone, she wore pigtails and smiled a lot, which was enough for some. Oh, and she was good, of course. The USSR didn't pick you for the Olympics unless you were one of the best in the world. And her performance on the uneven bars was useful as well as spectacular: it helped the USSR retain the team event. Today she was back on the same apparatus in the individual all-round competition - and the crowd settled down to watch her challenge for the gold medal against her team mate Ludmila Turischeva. Turischeva was talented and beautiful, but she was no elf, so the crowd were no more than polite. Korbut was in the overall lead as he jumped up onto the bars - but it didn't last long. Even the way she jumped up to start the routine was untidy - and then she slipped off, an error which cost her any chance of the all-round title. When she sat and cried, hearts went out to her while Turischeva won the gold almost unnoticed. The day after, Korbut was cheered to the echo for winning silver on the bars and especially gold on the floor and beam. Back home in Belarus, Korbut was soon receiving tens of thousands of letters a year. She wasn't the same force at the 1976 Olympics, winning gold in the team event but finishing fifth in the all-round while a 14-year-old Romanian took over her mantle (July 19). But Nadia Comăneci was never elfin enough to be loved.

The Volvo Masters at Valderrama in Spain was the last tournament of the European golf season. Colin Montgomerie led for the first three rounds before finishing joint third, three shots behind winner Paul McGinlay of Ireland. But Monty did enough to win the Order of Merit for the eighth time, which added to his own record. He hadn't won it since 1999, when he did it for the seventh year in a row, breaking the record of six titles he shared with Seve Ballesteros. In 2005, Monty won only one event, and that was late on and slightly ersatz: the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, a celebrity pro-am earlier that month. But he topped the earnings list going before Valderrama, where he finished four shots ahead of his only rival, US Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who won the Player of the Year award.

Britain's Carl Fogarty became World Superbike champion for the first time. The last two races of the season were at Phillip Island, off Australia. Fogarty went in with a five-point lead over reigning champion Scott Russell of the USA, and increased it to eight after winning the first race. He survived a collision with a flying gull and had to set the lap record several times to stay ahead of Russell and his team mate, 19-year-old Australian Anthony Gobert. To retain the title, Russell needed to win the second race with Fogarty finishing no better than fifth. But his Kawasaki made it easy for Foggy's Ducati by needing a rear tyre change with only four laps to go. Bad luck, of course - but Fogarty was lying a comfortable third by then. He retained the title the following year and won it for a record fourth time in 1999 (September 12).

You don't need tries to be a classic rugby union match. Even a World Cup semi-final. Australia got there with a routine win over Wales in Cardiff (October 23), while South Africa buried England under a bombardment of drop goals (October 24). Today at Twickenham, the rain belted down hard enough to make a running game difficult, so it became a battle. Two great scrum-halves slugged it out with honours even: George Gregan and Joost van der Westhuizen, who towered over him. Australia's John Eales gave his usual masterclass in the lineout, and the goalkickers kept their nerve and did their job. Seven minutes of injury time had been played at the end of the match when England's nemesis Jannie de Beer kicked a penalty goal to make the score 21-21 and force extra time. Only one drop goal from De Beer this time, but six penalties, so he scored all his team's points - for the losing side. Australia had two marksmen to the Springboks' one. Matt Burke had kicked seven penalties in normal time, and we were looking at a penalty shoot-out when Stephen Larkham suddenly did a De Beer by dropping a goal from 45 yards. Cruel as well as ironic for South Africa: it was one of only two drop goals Larkham landed in his 102 internationals. Burke added an eighth penalty to take Australia to the final, where they expected to meet some rampant All Blacks.

Talking of drop goals, today in 1963 Dick Uzzell landed the most famous in the history of Newport RFC. The All Blacks had their usual successful tour of Britain and France, winning four of their five internationals and drawing the other one (January 18). But it was easier to defend against better teams in those days, so New Zealand's biggest win was 14-0 at Twickenham (January 4), and they beat Ireland only 6-5. They played 13 matches before the internationals, the third against Newport today at Rodney Parade, where the weather did them no favours. Although they have wind and rain in New Zealand, today's conditions helped the home club by slowing play down and confining it to the forwards. The All Black pack had Colin Meads and a great back row, but Glyn Davidge stopped them winning much ball. At the time, players were allowed to lie on it without being penalised. Kicked to pieces by a rucking pack, but not penalised. So Davidge lay on the ball and took his lumps. He finished black and blue but grinning like a monkey. After twenty minutes, Uzzell dug a drop goal out of the mud - and that was the only score. The wind and rain got worse and stopped the All Blacks running the ball, and Newport's Ray Cheney hit the bar with a late penalty kick. Uzzell was rewarded with his first cap for Wales, but this time New Zealand won in Cardiff (December 21). The Newport defeat was the only one they suffered in 34 matches on that tour.

The incredible Henry Armstrong had such a slow heartbeat and was such a glutton for work that normal rules about rest and recuperation didn't apply. Today in Los Angeles, he defended his world welterweight title for the fifth time in three weeks! Not as impressive as it sounds: none of his four victims was out of the top drawer. Howard Scott had lost 38 of his 99 pro fights, Richie Fontaine 20 out of 64, and in Denver tonight Bobby Pacho lost for the 53rd time in 144. Armstrong stopped him in the fourth round - then didn't defend the title again for a whole six weeks.

In baseball, the Philadelphia Athletics beat Chicago 4-1 in Brooklyn to win the first professional baseball championship, the National Association title, a forerunner of the World Series, which didn't begin until 1903.

Crack Belgian cyclist Ferdinand Bracke took time off from the individual pursuit to break the world record for distance covered in an hour. World champion in 1964 and 1969, he finished second four times, once behind Britain's Hugh Porter, and won the Vuelta a España in 1971. Today in Rome, he cycled 48,093 metres in an hour, breaking the world record which had lasted almost nine years. Bracke's time was improved the following year, when cyclists started going to Mexico City for the helpful thin air. In 1996, Britain's Chris Boardman set the current record of 56,375 - at sea level (September 6).