Today is the 35th anniversary of a seminal sports event: the Rumble in the Jungle, which pitted George Foreman against Muhummad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire. And No Mas honcho Chris Isenberg is marking the occasion with some seriously gorgeous video animation.
Some quick background: Most of you probably think of No Mas as a T-shirt brand, but it’s actually a multi-faceted media project — a project that was born out of Isenberg’s fascination with Ali. That fascination eventually blossomed into Isenberg becoming an official Ali licensee (you can read more about the unusual route he took to that destination here), and he’s used that connection to commission three short animations to commemorate the Rumble anniversary.
The first one, called Zaire, is by watercolorist David Rathman and is sort of a gray-wash time capsule that juxtaposes iconic Rumble sound bites with Rathman’s spectacular brushwork. You can see additional stills here, or just watch the video below.
Next up: Round Zero by oil painter Jerome Lagarrigue. No Mas describe this one thusly: “Lagarrigue draws inspiration from Ali’s own zoological poetry (‘I done wrassled with an alligator/Tussled with a whale’) in exploring Ali’s mental and spiritual transformation in the moments before the bell sounds round one.” OK, so that sounds a tad pretentious, but the imagery is magnificent, all the more so when you see it in motion. Check it out:
The third video is by pen-and-ink illustrator James Blagden, is a hoot. As you may know, James Brown was headlining an all-star soul concert in Zaire that was organized in conjunction with the Rumble (and was also the subject of a recent documentary). So with the Godfather of Soul and the Greatest of All Time having been in the same place at the same time, Blagden has imagined a fictitious showdown between the two of them, set to JB’s “Cold Blooded.” Dig:
Great stuff, three great takes on a seminal event, and three potent reminders that boxing is still the most aesthetically potent sport of them all. Chris is going to be making some of the original animation artwork available for sale, and there may be an exhibit at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. You can keep track of all that news on the No Mas site.
I love these short films, and I certainly don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but I do feel a reality check is in order regarding the Rumble. To wit: It was a bad fight, and a boring one. Forget all the When We Were Kings mythologizing and just watch the fight. If you do, one thing quickly becomes apparent: Foreman looks like an amateur. No balance, no leverage, no nothing. Watch how he often he has his palms awkwardly extended and open in front of him, like a two-bit street pug. He doesn’t even look like a credible slugger — more like a third-rate Tough Man contestant. Seriously, there are multiple points in the fight where it’s embarrassing to watch him. Meanwhile, Ali’s rope-a-dope tactics, while canny, make for a snooze of a bout. Even the eventual knockout is unsatisfying — more of a cumulative meltdown than major punch-and-drop.
And yet the legend of the Rumble has endured. Why? (1) Foreman had built up an aura of invincibility in his previous fights, so the result was seen as a huge upset. (2) This was the fight in which Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title, something that had only been done once before (by Floyd Patterson, don’tcha know). (3) Ali, as was his habit, used the buildup to the fight as a backdrop for addressing powerful themes of race and culture — particularly powerful in this case, since the fight was in Africa. (4) Fight fans love epic themes, even if they’re more rooted in myth than in fact, and this fight had lots of powerful thematic elements. (5) “Rumble in the Jungle” is a catchy slogan.
None of which makes the No Mas videos any less compelling. Like I said, I’m just trying to provide a nugget of reality amidst the mythmaking.
Finally, one interesting uni-related note from the Rumble: Referee Zack Clayton wore zebra stripes — not something you often see in the boxing ring.
Bonus Column: I’ll have a short piece on World Series rings up on ESPN today. I won’t be around to add the link when it goes live, but it should be at this URL (that link will give an error message until the piece goes live, probably around 12:30pm eastern).
College Hoops Home Stretch: I’m currently working on my annual college basketball season-preview column for ESPN. Compiling one of these columns for college sports is different than doing it for one of the pro leagues, because there’s no central database of all the new uniforms, no league PR office or single manufacturer to go over things with. Basically, it’s a free-for-all, so I just try to stay alert and keep track of all the new designs and patches as I become aware of them.
Here’s what I have so far: Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Creighton, Georgia Tech, Grand Canyon, Iowa State, Kentucky (rumors of something Lebron-ish, but no confirmation yet), Louisville, Miami (Ohio), Missouri State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio U., Oregon (I think — not yet confirmed), Pacific (alternate uni for the Dec. 9 game against Cal), Pitt, San Diego State, South Carolina, UNC (1957 throwback), UNLV, Utah, Vanderbilt, Washington (new black alt), Washington State, and WVU (black alt).
I’m sure there are others I’ve missed — not just new uniforms, but also patches, court designs, etc. — and that’s where you come in. If you know of any college hoops unveilings not listed above, or if you become aware of any over the next week or so, please speak up. Thanks.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The single-bar facemask lives! That’s our old friend Scott Player, now plying his trade in the UFL (with thanks to Doug Keklak and Mike Rigby). … The 49ers are changing who gets to wear the green dot on defense (with thanks to Mark Snider). … Some great uniform shots in this video tribute to the late NHL ref Bill Chadwick (with thanks to Alan Kreit). … England’s new rugby kit is my favorite color, with a poppy thrown in for Armistice Day (with thanks to Michael Orr). … Striped stirrups sighting in yesterday’s “Family Circus” (big thanks to Vernona Elms). … Insert joke about one white hockey glove here (with thanks to Mark Snider). … Not uni-related, but if you wanna see something really beautiful — I mean really beautiful — click on the embedded video here (thanks, Kirsten). … You’ve heard of FNOB, but how about FNOF? That’s the Raja, of course, wearing a Chicago youth organization uni (great find by Paul Wiederecht). … Good article about early Red Wings mask history here (with thanks to Tim Shay). … New uniforms for the Jacksonville Suns. … For next year’s April Fool, maybe I’ll start a rumor that the Seahawks are gonna be wearing this (bizarre find by Matthew Weber). … New World Cup kit for Ivory Coast. I don’t like that diagonal shoulder treatment, but I love their new crest (with thanks to Coachie Ballgames). … Tremendous batch of old 1940s Washington Huskies photos here (big thanks to John Doodigian). … According to the fourth graf of this story, Avs goalie Craig Anderson once “lived in Sweden and inserted a double-s in the middle of his surname to to fit in. When he played for the Blackhawks, he had an incorrect [double-s] spelling on the name bar of his jersey until the NHL, as he says, ‘questioned the legality of it.'” I don’t like to post watermarked Getty photos (and I ask that none of you do so either), but you can see the single-s and double-s versions of Anders(s)on’s Blackhawks NOB if you go to Getty’s main page and search on “Craig Anderson 2003 Chicago” (with thanks to Paul Richard Cook). … I like socks as much as the next guy — probably more — but this is going overboard. … I’m heading to Cooperstown later today and will be there throughout the weekend (good place to be during the Series, right?). See you on Monday.