Rumble in the Jungle: Voices from those who were there
The historic fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, known as the “Rumble in the Jungle,” occurred on Oct. 30, 1974 — 40 years ago.
The people quoted below were in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo), where the fight took place. Here are some of their recollections.
“I wanted to win the heavyweight champion of the world so I could become one of the heavyweight champions of the world. That included Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, John L. Sullivan and Rocky Marciano. These were all heroes if you wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world. The color thing had nothing to do with what I was interested in. I didn’t pay much attention to it at all.”
“I do feel nostalgic looking back because here was black and white alike. ‘Working together works’ has always been my theme. We were all there, working together, a combination that was salt and pepper. It was an indicator of what was to come. It was so liberating, it was liberation from the chains that had shackled us. It was really a breakthrough for black people worldwide. Freedom was the cry.”
“Don King fascinated me. I liked Don King very much. He was a showman, a good guy to hang out with and he was fair. I’ve been in places with him in Manila and Kinshasha having a couple of drinks. When it got to closing time, he’d say, ‘Just leave the keys. I’ll lock the place up.'”
“Muhammad Ali sprinkled his magic on my work. When I first went down there, there was a lot of talk even back then in the ’70s about mythical stuff and auras. He did have an aura around him.”
“George got that brooding stuff from Sonny Liston. When he won the gold medal at age 19 in Mexico City, he waved his little American flag in celebration and then he was put into a training camp with Sonny Liston. Then he said, ‘That’s been very effective for him. Now I’m going to do that.’ It was just an act of intimidation. He was always a super nice kid.”
“Let me tell you what his disadvantage was, aside from the styles which I’ve mentioned. George did not take stitches in that bad cut he suffered. He hated needles. So he made them do it with butterfly bandages. And because of that, in that six-week period, his sparring partners were not allowed to hit him above the chest. That was to his detriment.”
“The Rumble in the Jungle remains the most epic and the most memorable event lodged in my consciousness. It was a bizarre happening at the time, which quite honestly you couldn’t believe ÔÇª unless you were actually there. For a start, we had this remarkable gentleman with shock hair by the name Don King no one had heard of trying to arrange this fight. We laughed our socks off at first. Then six months later there we were in Zaire.”
“It was this magnificent stadium in the middle of a jungle clearing outside of Kinshasa at 3 a.m. with (60,000) screaming Zaireoise chanting ‘Ali kill him.’ You couldn’t have made it up.”
Note: Gast directed the film “When We Were Kings.” Bill Caplan was Foreman’s PR man. Hubbard and Hart are sports writers.