The Fight (book)

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The Fight
The Fight (book).jpg
First edition
AuthorNorman Mailer
CountryUnited States
GenreNon fiction
PublisherLittle, Brown
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages234 pages

The Fight is a 1975 non-fiction book by Norman Mailer about the boxing title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman at Kinshasa in Zaire in 1974, known as the "Rumble in the Jungle".


The author is both the narrator and, in an example of illeism, a central figure in the story. To begin with, "Norman" goes to Ali's training camp at Deer Lake, Pennsylvania and observes his preparations. Clearly, Ali is his hero. He meets his entourage, among them Bundini, and the sparring partners such as Larry Holmes, Eddie Jones, and Roy Williams. The next scene is in Kinshasa where President Mobutu of Zaire has underwritten the fight, a showcase of "Black honour", a victory for "Mobutuism". Ali is stationed at Nsele and getting ready. The fight, however, is postponed when Foreman incurs a cut during his training. "Norman" can go back to the United States.

One month later, Mailer is back in Kinshasa, staying at the Inter-Continental hotel where most of George Foreman's people are staying as well, also the promoters, and even some of Ali's retinue. Mailer glows in the admiration of the black Americans: "A man of wisdom" (Ali)," the champ among writers" (Foreman), "a genius" (Don King). He reads "Bantu Philosophy" and learns that "humans (are) forces, not beings".

Mailer meets Foreman and is startled by his reception, "Excuse me for not shaking hands with you, but you see I am keeping my hands in my pockets". Foreman works with Sandy Saddler, Dick Sadler, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Terry Lee. Mailer has access to Ali's preparations at Nsele, and, on one occasion, is allowed to accompany Ali on his early morning run but not able to complete the full exercise. The encounters with various characters of the retinues fascinate Mailer. The balconies of the hotel have no railings, and on one night, after drinking with Don King, Mailer challenges himself to go on the balcony and climb around its partition to the next balcony. He ponders what could have happened, "How ridiculous a way to get yourself killed".

The evening before the fight Mailer has a beer with George Plimpton, who covers the fight for Sports Illustrated before attending the press meeting of Foreman at the Hotel Memling. Then Plimpton and he set out for Ali's place to join his retinue. At 2 AM, they all leave for the stadium where the fight is scheduled to start two hours later. In Ali's dressing room, Mailer observes the mood.

He describes the dynamics of the fight in detail comparing it to a chess match and to a piece of art. He notes that Angelo Dundee loosens the tightness of the ropes to allow Ali to lean back more when doing his "rope-a-dope". During the fight Foreman grows increasingly weary, allowing Ali to take control of the bout and knock him out. Mailer states that the countdown by the referee Zack Clayton was correct and went to "ten".

After the fight, the tropical rain starts, the parties depart, and Mailer goes to Nsele to bid goodbye to Ali. When flying back, Mailer's plane is briefly detained at Dakar, as the jubilant crowd expects Ali to be aboard. Mailer concludes the book with an African tale.

"The Executioner's Song"[edit]

The title of the chapter where Ali takes control of the fight and wins is "The Executioner's Song". Mailer had used the title in one of his earlier poems, published in Fuck You magazine in September 1964, reprinted in Cannibals and Christians (1966). He reused this title later for his 1979 novel.

Critical reception[edit]

Mailer, who sometimes boxed, himself,[1] had been sent to Kinshasa and was part of the press corps. This and his personal connections gave him a unique access to the event. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt indicates that Mailer recalls the drama of the fight in a "exquisitely refined and attenuated" manner. We get to know, through Mailer's interactions, "the principals: Muhammad Ali himself, who comes across in these pages as a far more interesting and complex man than one would divine from seeing the interesting and complex public image; and George Foreman the champion, who is simply likable and terrifying." He commends Mailer for being able to describe the "pugilistic drama fully as exciting as the reality on which it is based."[2] Michael Wood believes that "every page of the book … speaks implicitly of Mailer's dislike of blacks, converted into fascination and even affection by an act of sheer liberal will".[3] A critical aspect of the book is that the writer puts himself right in the middle of it, or as he says: "Now our man of wisdom had a vice. He wrote about himself. Not only would he describe the events he saw, but his own small effect on events. This irritated critics. They spoke of ego trips and the unattractive dimensions of his narcissism."[4] Mitrosilis comments that "Mailer observes the power and frailty of his own persona just as he does with the fighters and their cornermen… hiding nothing." To him it appears like "a near impossible task to lie on the couch and sit in the chair, the psychologist and the patient." [5]


  1. ^ "Living a Literary Life". Academy of Achievement. June 12, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  2. ^ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (July 14, 1975). "Mailer on Ali and Foreman" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  3. ^ Michael Wood (July 27, 1975). "Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman via Norman Mailer". The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  4. ^ Norman Mailer. The Fight. Vintage Books, 1997. p. 31.
  5. ^ Teddy Mitrosilis (August 14, 2012). ""The Fight" by Norman Mailer". Western Sideline. Retrieved March 4, 2015.