This is the truly wild and bizarre story of the Rumble in the Jungle. It was one of heavyweight boxing’s all-time greatest matchups, or was it? Maybe it was all just another government coup like so many other secret operations that have seemingly unfolded throughout history.
The hammering blows from the 220-pound warrior landed ineffectively against his opponent’s arms and body. One after one, he tried to get through the skilled defender’s defenses with no luck. The defender gracefully leaned back into the ropes, covering his head, letting his opponent hammer away at his body and arms. The opponent fell into the trap, succumbing to his emotions and trying to break down the defense cost him dearly. The fierce blows became tiring; energy slipped away. The defender turned to offense. The tens of thousands of fans in the arena erupted. The estimated billion viewers likely leaned a bit closer to their television screens.
Before the massive UFC matches seen on Pay-Per-View in modern times, boxing matches were king. Touted as the biggest fight of the century.
The fighting powerhouses of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman entered the ring on October 30, 1974. A billion people watched in anticipation, wondering who would leave that arena, head held high, victorious. Who would forever wonder if they could have been the greatest fighter alive? Soon the world would know.
So how did these two powerhouses get from the United States to Africa?
Don King, a former illegal bookie and convicted murderer, became one of the most prolific boxing promoters of the ages. It can be said that King’s first major foray into boxing promotion came with his idea to hold a fight on such a large scale that the world would need to tune in to see who would emerge victorious. The Rumble in the Jungle was King’s brainchild, and through skilled promotion, the fight would quickly grow into a frenzy of anticipation.
King had a gift of promotion but lacked the money to get the fight off the ground. King found the money through his connection with an excised American Nazi named Fred Weymar. Weymar held the key; his relationship with the President of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. Weynerran Mobutu’s Swiss Bank accounts and who-knows-what-else? Through some backroom deals, the money was raised, and the fight was set to take place in Zaire, Africa.
There was more to this fight in Zaire than having a storied African location. Zaire wasn’t always Zaire; it was born from the mind of President Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobuto came to power through a coup in the 1960s and quickly transformed the country into his image of what an “African” country should reflect—changing the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Zaire and requiring all citizens to adopt African-originating names and discarding any European influence.
Mobutu’s legacy would not be of turning Zaire into a flourishing African country but one of corruption and dictatorship. Mobuto not only changed the dynamic of the once-thriving nation as soon as he seized power, he swiftly turned to corruption. The dictator built palaces throughout the country and expanded his footprint worldwide, squandering his nation’s resources and wealth. Public executions of dissenters became commonplace. As more and more eyes focused on the corrupt dictator, he needed a positive public relations message; enter boxing promoter Don King and the Rumble in the Jungle.
With the match set, the competitors made their way to Africa. In one corner would stand “Big George” Foreman, and in the other, “the Greatest” Muhammad Ali. Who were these warriors? Who would emerge victorious? One thing is for sure; King guaranteed each boxer 5 million dollars.
Before the infamous grill, there was George Foreman professional boxer. Foreman held the title of champion at the time of the fight and was a force to be reckoned with. In a recent interview, George Foreman said he called up Muhammed Ali to negotiate the fight. Foreman asked Ali, “Do you really want to fight me?” Ali responded, “Yeah, George, I’ll fight you and promote the fight.”
Ali started promotion instantly with “fussing and name calling” hurled in Foreman’s direction for the world to hear. Foreman hyped his offense and said, “Nobody could stop me” at that time and kept his ego in check before the big fight.
In the other corner would stand Muhammed Ali. Not only was Ali a formidable boxer, but he was also a king of promotion and psyching out his opponents before and during his fights. Ali’s famous speech before the fight had Ali sending some words Foreman’s way. From telling Foreman, he would “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee; his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see” to “I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”
In the early morning of October 30, 1974, Zaire’s May 20 Stadium arena erupted as Foreman and Ali entered the ring. The two warriors stared across the ring at each other, ready to battle it out in front of an estimated billion television viewers and the at-capacity arena.
A billion people, let’s say that again, a billion people tuned in to see these two warriors battle it out. With 60,000 spectators in attendance, the biggest sporting match to date was set to begin.
Ding-Ding, the bell rang out. The greatest fight ever was on! Uppercuts, jabs, hooks; the hammering from each opponent landed on each other.
Ali’s infamous Rope-A-Dope move emerged during the fight’s second round. Ali gracefully leaned back into the ropes, covering his head, letting Foreman hammer away at his body and arms. Foreman fell into the trap, succumbing to his emotions and trying to break Ali’s defenses cost him dearly.
George Foreman said he threw everything at Ali, over and over, landing blows. Foreman said he started getting winded and heard Ali yell at him, “George, that all you got?”. Foreman wasn’t afraid; he kept in the fight round after round.
The fighters did not let up. With Foreman trying to chop down Ali like a tree and Ali landing solid blows to Foreman’s chin, they remained standing.
Then, in Round 8, the greatest fight ever ended, with Ali standing victorious over Foreman.