The greatest sporting event I never witnessed took place on Oct. 30, 1974 in the Mai 20 Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire. It was a title bout for the boxing heavyweight championship of the world. It pitted champion George Foreman against challenger Muhammad Ali. Labeled "The Rumble In The Jungle," the match went on to become one of the most legendary sporting events in history - and I missed it.
Foreman was the supposed favorite. He was bigger and younger than Ali and from what they say, Foreman could mash a man into hamburger. The only thing that Ali seemed to have going for him was experience; he had been to this rodeo before, but that was not supposed to save him. He was expected to lose and perhaps get seriously hurt or killed. "Ding, ding" goes the bell at the start of the fight and Ali does the unthinkable: He covers up, goes against the ropes and lets Foreman all out brutalize him. He lets this go on for nearly almost nearly eight rounds.
However, late in the eighth Foreman noticeably begins to tire from beating a blocking Ali to a pulp and that is when Ali pulled out what is now known as the "rope-A-dope" technique. After purposely letting the bigger and inexperienced man hit him and tire himself out, Ali unleashed a fury of punches on Foreman, eventually knocked the monster down for a KO and won the world heavyweight title again. It was the work of a genius - and I missed it.
Thanks, God. You know, when my time comes and both you and me are chilling by the pearly gates pool, I'm going to have some words with you, big guy. I can't believe You couldn't have me alive and in Zaire at that time. Fortunately, I am possibly bearing witness to another rope-A-dope move happening right now, right here in Washington D.C. Believe it or not, after having the Nationals take a vicious pounding the past few seasons, general manager Mike Rizzo might finally be ready to come off the ropes and unleash a fury of his own.
It is hard to imagine Rizzo pulling a rope-A-dope on the baseball world. The jury is still out on how good a GM he actually is. In his short tenure, he really has only pulled off two moves even worth remembering: Michael Morse for Ryan Langerhans and sneaking catcher Wilson Ramos from Minnesota like a thief in the night. Decent moves, but coupled with moves like Matt Stairs, Nyjer Morgan, an incredibly insane contract for Jayson Werth, and not being able to reel in a big-name pitcher this past offseason, those two good moves can't sustain a whole resume. As unusual as Rizzo is, I can't see him being that cunning, but he certainly seems to be setting everyone up.
His philosophy of a younger, faster, athletic and defensive-minded team was bearing little fruit and taking heavy lumps with the fans and media, but suddenly, just as his critics began to tire of their own droll, the Nationals have suddenly begun to show punch. You almost counted to 10 and the team was in third place in the National League East and a mere game or two from .500. A Wild Card berth is not outside the realm of possibility, either.
Suddenly a bigger picture can be glimpsed through the fog. If you look past all the Alex Coras, Rick Ankiels, Chad Gaudins, Tom Gorzelannys and injuries, you can see a nearly complete skeleton of what this team is going to be. Underneath the skin are the Espinosas, Ramoses, Zimmermanns, Desmonds, and not far behind them are the Strasburgs and Harpers. This coming offseason's shopping list might be pretty short, with only key needs like a real leadoff hitter to drop Werth back in the lineup to drive in runs, a top-notch starter, a stronger centerfielder and one or two decent relievers. If they can just get any of that and fill those needs, this team's roster is going to be no joke in 2012 and it would definitely be serious business by 2013. It isn't hard to imagine and see where this team is potentially headed. They might truly be closer than what anyone gives them or Rizzo credit for.
It is hard to believe Rizzo is rope-A-doping us, but the results the team has been recently putting together are reeling. They are leaving NatsTown reeling. I'm one of Rizzo's biggest crtics and I am reeling. Rizzo is coming off the ropes looking for the knockout. If everything plays out and smart moves are made and luck is in his corner, Rizzo might floor us before we even get to the eighth round.
Drew Kinback blogs about the Nats at Nationals Inquisition, and has given his take this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.