On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali beat the odds to regain the title of the world heavyweight boxing
champion. The fight against the younger, bigger, defending champion, George Foreman, was held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and nicknamed the “Rumble in the Jungle
.” Today, the Rumble in the Jungle is consider
ed by many historians to be the greatest sporting event of the 20th century.
Although the fight took place in Africa, it was a uniquely American event. Ali and Foreman shared many characteristic
s, and became very good friends. Both were gold medalists—Ali won the light heavyweight title at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, and Foreman won the heavyweight title at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. Both athlete
s were also both born and raised in the American South
—Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, and Foreman in Houston, Texas.
The third American who made the Rumble in the Jungle possible was promoter
Don King. King was an outspoken
showman who worked tirelessly to produce a profitable
and entertaining event. Ali and Foreman both demanded $5 million for the fight, for instance. King’s organization did not have that money, so he negotiate
d with international
businessmen and sporting figures to secure funding. Mobutu Sese-Seko had been president of Zaire since its founding just three years earlier, and was eager
to encourage tourist
s to visit the new country. He invest
ed in the Rumble in the Jungle and provided train
ing facilities and a venue
for the fight. While Ali and Foreman spent weeks adjust
ing to the tropical climate
, King organized an all-star concert series with American and African musicians. James Brown, Celia Cruz, and Miriam Makeba were some of the artists to participate
in the event, “Zaire 74.” King arrange
d for the Rumble in the Jungle to start after 4 a.m. in Kinshasa—so the fight could be broadcast
during prime time
in the United States.
The Rumble in the Jungle helped cement
as “The Greatest” boxer in the history of the sport. Foreman enjoyed a phenomenal
boxing career, including several returns to the heavyweight title. King went on to promote other fights—notably the “Thrilla in Manila,” between Ali and Joe Frazier, the following year.