Rumble in the Jungle
"Under an African moon in the darkness before dawn today, a bee battered a lion." In 1974, the New York Times reported the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, a confrontation that became history
60,000 spectators, more than 100 countries tuned, 15 rounds, two boxers and one title in dispute.
On October 30, 1974, the attention of the world was focused in Zaire, to watch the biggest sport event never seen before on the African Continent.
From one side of the ring, the champion heavyweight George Foreman, 25, unbeaten for 40 matches.
On the other, Muhammad Ali, 32, looking for the title that had been taken seven years before.
It was 4 am and the stadium in Kinshasa vibrated with the "Rumble in the Jungle”.
AN UNPRECEDENTED FIGHTING
The expectation for the duel of titans grew for months.
The initiative had its origin by the promoter Don King, that promised a big fat pay check of five million to each of the boxers.
The dictator Mobutu Sese Seko show themselves available to receive the combat, in order to internationally promote Zaire.
"A fight between two blacks, in a black nation, organized by blacks and seen by the whole world; that is a victory for Mobutism," could be read outside the stadium.
But the dictator was not satisfied with the soundbite created by Don King, «From the Slave Ship to the Championship», probably due to the inherent racism.
The promoter suggested "Rumble in the Jungle." The name stuck.
Months before the confrontation, still in New York, Don King has promoted press conferences to advertise the fight.
"So, what we’re going to do here today is to talk about Ali, here, going to meet George Foreman and regain his crown as the heavyweight champion of the world", explained the promoter.
And he didn’t stop there. "Regain? Defend my crown."
Seven years ago, the title of world champion heavyweight was taken from him, as well as license to fight.
On the April 28 of 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to join the US military, citing religious reasons.
"My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America."
The boxer, born in Cassius Clay, had recently turned to the Nation of Islam and an Islamic adopted name.
His refusal to participate in the Vietnam War resulted in his arrest and exclusion of competition.
By the time of his expulsion, Muhammad Ali was a recognized name in the boxing world.
The boxer had won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics Games and, since then, he has defeated some of the biggest names of the sport worldwide.
A successful journey crowned by the title of the champion in 1964. His career was interrupted at its peak.
In April of 1968, he made the cover of Esquire, an image reminiscent of the figure of the martyr St. Sebastian and became one of the anti-war movement icon.
His case was tried in the Supreme Court and only in the 70s, Ali was allowed to return to competition.
By then, another name stands out in the modality: George Foreman.
After winning the Gold in the 1968 Olympics Games, "Big George" as he was known, had opened an unbeaten journey that extended for 40 consecutive fights, with 37 knock-outs.
In 1973, during an iconic confrontation with Joe Frazier, he became the World Champion Heavyweight.
A title that he would defend the following year, in the duel with Muhammad Ali.
After his forced departure, Ali wanted to regain the distinction that earned ten years earlier and had never losing in battle.
The sports world had turned their attention to Zaire.
ZAIRE, THE SPORTS CAPITAL
George Foreman arrived to the African airport before a crowd of six thousand fans.
Muhammad Ali had arrived 24 hours before and had already won the admiration of Zaire.
The boxer had walked on the streets of the country and had spent time with people, highlighting the symbolic character of the fight for the "emancipation of black people.”
Meanwhile, Foreman remained at the training center with his inseparable German shepherd, the breed preferred by the Belgian authorities, who had spread terror through the streets of Zaire before independence.
For the world of sport, Forman - with the champion title, younger, stronger - was clearly the favorite.
For the population of Zaire, Muhammad Ali was already the big winner.
The fight had begun even before the boxers step foot on African soil.
In his peculiar style, Ali showed his confidence in the victory.
“I’m so bad I make medicine sick, I’m so fast, man, I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet. When George Foreman meets me, he will pay his debt. I can drown a drink of water and kill a dead tree, wait till you see Muhammad Ali.”
Foreman, considered the favourite to win, believed in an easy fight with the former champion.
“I had no doubts whatsoever that I was gonna defeat Muhammad Ali. I was not afraid […] I’m just gonna waste Muhammad Ali in two or three rounds.”
But the boxers still had to wait to prove their worth in the ring.
The fight was suspended due to an injury sustained by Foreman during the training.
The new date: the 30th of October, at 4 a.m. local time, to be convenient to the American public.
The event would be broadcast in a closed television circuit in about 450 locations in the United States and Canada, and in a hundred other countries.
Some Media outlets decided to stay to cover the preparations for combat.
Sports Illustrated, alone, sent seven reporters, including George Plimpton.
To go together with the sport event, a musical initiative was organised, which joined names like James Brown, Bill Withers and B.B. King.
The media stage was set. Only the protagonists were missing.
At the scheduled time, Ali walked to the ring in front of 60,000 people, and chants of "Ali bome ye!" [“Ali, kill him!"].
On the opposite side of the ring, Foreman team was struggling to make the champion robe not to get stuck on his muscled arms.
The bell clanged. Ali threw the first punch. Eight rounds later, there was a new champion.
Muhammad Ali, aware of the strength and physical power of his opponent, had adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy, leaning over the ropes and protecting himself from Foreman’s blows, tiring him out.
“I hit him hard on the side, I mean, I got a good shot. And he said: ‘Is that all you got, George?’ And I remember thinking: ‘Yup, that’s about it’,” recalled, George Foreman, years later.
The victorious Ali was surrounded by journalists and proved to be critical of the Media, who did not believe in his victory.
“I told you I’m the champion of the world. All of you bow. All of my critics crawl. All of you suckers who write The Ring magazine, Boxing Illustrated ... all of you suckers bow.”
The press was not indifferent to Ali’s victory.
“How Ali fooled them all,” wrote Sports Illustrated, on the unexpected triumph of the underdog.
10 years later, Muhammad Ali conquered again the title that he never had lost in the ring.
OUTSIDE THE RING
After the victory in Zaire, Ali continued to face some of the greatest boxers in the world, starting with Joe Frazier, in the famous fight "Thrilla in Manila".
His career began to decline in the late 70s and, in 1981, he announced his retirement.
“I just have to face it: nothing lasts forever, not even Muhammad Ali.”
In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. A debilitating condition, which didn’t dictate his complete withdrawal from public life.
Foreman took years to heal the scars of "Rumble of the Jungle." He retired in 1977, becoming a Religious Minister.
Ten years later, he returned to the ring.
In 1994, 45 year-old Foreman regained the title, becoming the oldest world champion in boxing history.
“I exorcised the ghost, once and forever,” he said.
The boxer became an entrepreneur, creating an empire in the area of grills, which led him to the cover of Forbes magazine.
The old rivals met again in 1997 ... at the Oscars Ceremony.
The statuette for Best Documentary was awarded to “When We Were Kings”, a film that discloses a side of the "Rumble in the Jungle" never seen before.
A champions’ combat, which put Africa in the world's mouth and crowned Ali and Foreman as boxing legends.