Credit of featured image: anonymous source
On this day in 1974 in what was then the Republic of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Muhammad Ali came in as 4-1 underdog and defeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman by knockout in the eight round of the fight that was known as the “Rumble in the Jungle”. 60,000 people were in attendance of what many refer to as the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. An audience of over 1 billion people tuned in around the world to watch the fight, which at the time made it the most-watched live television broadcast of all time.
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of boxing, you can still be in awe of the event for the spectacle that it was. I would also be willing to bet that at some stage in your life you’ve come across the iconic clip of Ali backed into corner with the powerful world champion bearing down on him, a situation which for most boxers would mean big trouble. For the next ten seconds the world champion attempts to absolutely obliterate Ali with punch after punch, each one carrying the weight of a sledgehammer and coming at the speed of bullets. Neither the crowd in attendance or the fans around the world could contain themselves as Ali proceeded to dodge every single punch as cool and calm as you like, and emerge without a scratch on him.
Foreman failed to connect with the people of Zaire from the beginning. On the other hand, from the moment Ali arrived he was treated like a hero. Back in the US, Ali desperately craved the love and respect of the people, in Zaire he received it in abundance. The people of Zaire looked on Ali as a symbol of the hardship they had endured in the past. Leading into the fight, Foreman may have been the champion, but Ali was their champion. For many it was this fight that earned Ali the title of “Greatest of all time”.
When you look back over the numbers of how many people watched the fight it’s unrealistic to think that every single number is a passionate boxing fan. Many certainly were, the vast majority were either your average sports fan or a passive sports fan. In this case however, they all had something in common. They all knew that this event would be special, this event would go on to have an incredible legacy and cultural influence. For that reason, one simply had to tune in.
When it comes to broadcasting live events in todays world we’re bombarded by choice. Hundreds and thousands of different tv channels and streaming services will all scream desperately at us through social media that what they’re showing is the best, that this is what we need to be watching. We can get lost in the relentless money-hungry promotions and ultimately can forget what actually makes a real spectacle anymore. The opportunities to watch the greatest to ever do it on the grandest stage in their field is a rare thing, sometimes it’s only when certain people retire and we watch their career highlights on youtube that we’re sorry we didn’t pay more attention to them in their prime. Truly iconic events like the “Rumble in the Jungle” will come and go. We need to make sure we appreciate them when they do.