‘What the bloody hell happened?’ He’s only just been allocated to my class and I haven’t even met him yet!’, I bellowed at one of my students. “I’m really sorry, JD, but I just had to do it!”, he replied. “He ‘jumped’ the dinner queue last night and pushed his way in – right in front of me! So I had to hit him!” ‘Hit him?’, I questioned. ‘You bloody near-on knocked him out from what I’ve been told!’ ‘No, JD! It wasn’t like that! It wasn’t that bad!’, continued the old lag, ‘I only jabbed him once with my left, then caught him with an uppercut and he just flew over the potatoes, past the peas and landed in the carrots!’ That was my introduction to a new student I hadn’t even met! But, I was keen to, as I’d heard he came from The Congo. In addition, and in his absence, I nicknamed him the ‘Sugar Man’, as, at that time, things in prison could get rough; so, I would accord any prisoner who’d lost a fight an esteemed nom de guerre, mainly as a means of boosting their confidence for the next time, should, indeed, there have to be another occasion!
I knew quite a lot about The Congo, which was called Zaire when I was growing up. It was a nation that had put itself on the world footballing map when it qualified for the World Cup in West Germany in 1974 and played against Scotland in Round 1, losing 2-0, and also suffered even more comprehensive defeats at the hands of Brazil and Yugoslavia. More importantly though, it was the country that hosted Muhammad Ali’s legendary Rumble In The Jungle (Kinshasa, October 30, 1974) against the hard-hitting and undefeated World Heavyweight Champion ‘Formidable’ George Foreman where, in Ali’s pre-fight words, ‘The King has returned to claim his crown!’, and the self-proclaimed, but ageing, ‘Greatest of All Times’ devised the rope-a-dope tactic, and then proceeded to knock out his exhausted opponent in Round 8. So, the then flat-footed, thirty-two-year-old ‘genius of the squared circle’ had regained his title, taken from him unjustly seven years’ before, and, subsequently, became the most famous man on the planet bar none – a boast which, for those who lived through those tumultuous times, as I did, could or would not contest. (Full story available for 99p using PayPal)