Ready to rumble: Ali and Foreman in the famous 1974 fight. Photo: Getty
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Lords of the ring: reliving Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle”

A running commentary by Ricky Hatton and fellow boxers to mark the 40th anniversary of the super-fight, in what turned out to be a brilliantly conceived and delivered programme

 

Reliving the Rumble
BBC Radio 5 Live

“Eyes open – look! His eyes are always open, looking, looking . . .” Ricky Hatton is watching a film of Muhammad Ali’s and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle” with his fellow boxers Carl Froch and David Haye, all giving a running commentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the super-fight, in what turned out to be a brilliantly conceived and delivered programme (30 October, 7.30pm).

We are all familiar with the rhythms and tones of this type of commentary – usually that most ubiquitous of extras on DVDs of everything from old movies to celebrated football matches. It’s sometimes a drag and sometimes interesting, if you can be arsed. (I think it’s never been better than when Jack Nicholson settles into critiquing a favourite role of his, in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger, evidently sinking deep into an armchair for the duration and lighting a massive cigar. “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me where . . .” goes the opening line on-screen. “First words,” comments Nicholson in that familiarly low-pulsed voice, bursting with pride.)

On BBC Radio 5 Live, unusually quickly it’s clear that it doesn’t matter remotely that it’s all voice and no image. To see Ali pasting a bewildered Foreman clear as day, you merely have to sit very still and listen. Easy to do, because the three men speaking are impeccable at filtering what they are looking at: meticulously descriptive, personal. Says Haye: “He throws his right hand almost as if it’s his left hand. I think to myself, why can’t I do that? Because I don’t have the speed.” Hatton is particularly good at the second-by-second sketch: “A quick one-two-bang-bang, then uses his forehand to just nudge him and then gets that right hand to one-two and then pushes with his palm to shift . . .” Froch is awed but always careful to explain why. “Yep, there it is, that shot. It makes you breathe heavy. It makes you tired. Suicide. Suicide mission going on here.” Riveting.

And what became clear is that boxing suits this sort of analysis possibly better than any other sport, even tennis, because it is all decisions, all choices – no ball randomly hitting a knee here and stopping the thinking. Powerfully smart stuff. I’d listen again in a flash. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Running out of Time

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Brexit… Leg-sit

A new poem by Jo-Ella Sarich. 

Forgot Brexit. An ostrich just walked into the room. Actually,
forget ostriches too. Armadillos also have legs, and shoulder plates
like a Kardashian.  Then I walked in, the other version of me, the one
with legs like wilding pines, when all of them

are the lumberjacks. Forget forests. Carbon sinks are down
this month; Switzerland is the neutral territory
that carved out an island for itself. My body
is the battleground you sketch. My body is
the greenfield development, and you
are the heavy earthmoving equipment. Forget
the artillery in the hills
and the rooftops opening up like nesting boxes. Forget about

the arms race. Cheekbones are the new upper arms
since Michelle lost out to Melania. My cheekbones
are the Horsehead Nebula and you are the Russians
at warp speed. Race you to the finish. North Korea

will go away if you stop thinking
about it. South Korea will, too. Stop thinking
about my sternum. Stop thinking about
the intricacy of my mitochondria. Thigh gaps
are the new wage gaps, and mine is like
the space between the redwood stand
and the plane headed for the mountains. Look,

I’ve pulled up a presentation
with seven different eschatologies
you might like to try. Forget that my arms
are the yellow tape around the heritage tree. Forget
about my exoskeleton. Forget
that the hermit crab
has no shell of its own. Forget that the crab ever
walked sideways into the room.
Pay attention, people.

Jo-Ella Sarich is a New Zealand-based lawyer and poet. Her poems have appeared in the Galway Review and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear