Remember the Rumble in the Jungle

All the pundits are pontificating that Romney killed Obama Wednesday night in substance, style, and control. Indeed, my excellent colleague at the BDN, Matt Gagnon, even commented on his facebook page; “DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!” in reference to the 1973 fight in which George Foreman knocked down, and ultimately defeated, the Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier.

While I agree with my colleague, and all the rest, that Obama lost badly, he is referring to the wrong historical fight as reference to what lie ahead. It is the Rumble in the Jungle of 1974 that we should examine.

To refresh your memory, Muhammad Ali came into the match and spent the first four rounds against the ropes getting pummeled by George Foreman. He took hit after hit. He barely engaged except occasional jabs. He appeared like he was simply going to phone the fight in. Indeed he even looked scared.

But, as we now know, all the while that the announcers and analysts were discussing Ali’s imminent and crushing defeat, Ali was actually learning about his opponent. Giving Foreman a false sense of cockiness. Letting him feel like he was controlling the fight. Ali was sitting back and engaging just enough to learn what he needed to learn, without making a mistake that could cost him the match.

And then came the fifth through seventh rounds. Ali now knew enough. He began to find his openings. He worked his way into Foreman’s weak spots. Slowly showing Foreman that the first four rounds were not what they appeared.

And then the fatal eighth. There was nothing Foreman could do. Ali created his opening and unleashed one of the most famous five-punch combinations in boxing history. The fourth punch providing the uppercut that exposed Foreman to the lighting fast over-hand fatal blow. A ten-count later and it was over. Just that fast.

My sense was that Obama was playing Ali last night. Feeling Romney out. Not engaging much. Basic defense. A couple of jabs to see where Romney’s soft spots might be. Letting Romney’s myriad of mistakes float by to be exploited later. Allowing himself to beaten early, with the full intent of plotting new strategy down the road.

Obama is simply too good at this game. Simply too smart to have allowed himself to be beaten this badly without a bigger strategy in mind.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking on my part, but if I were Romney, I would be very careful about the middle rounds on October 16th and the final round on October 22nd

Posted by Ethan Strimling