The Department of State Reports on the George Foreman-Muhammad Ali Fight (“The Rumble in the Jungle”) 1974, Part II

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Part 1 discussed preliminary activities relating to the bout, including the “Zaire 74” festival.

 In the lead-up to the fight, Foreman’s sparring partner inflicted a cut over Foreman’s right eye during a training session on September 16.  Such an injury obviously had the potential to affect the timing of the fight or cause it to be cancelled.  Cancellation of the fight could be seen as a blot on Zaire and Zairian authorities reacted in a somewhat panicked way as reported in the embassy’s telegram of the following day.

 

The embassy reported further “behind-the scenes” news in another telegram the next day.

 

In late September, the embassy sent two telegrams reporting on the press conference that took place after the bandage came off of Foreman’s eye:

As well as the fallout from that event:

 

Ultimately, the fight was postponed until October 30.

* * * * *

In mid-October, in an example of what would come to be seen as his characteristic generosity, Ali offered President Gerald Ford access to a direct closed circuit television broadcast of the fight.  In a note to President Ford sent through the embassy, Ali stated that “It is my wish that you, your family and aides have the opportunity to witness . . . my championship fight with George Foreman . . . .”  In requesting transmission of the message, Ali’s team “insisted that [the] message was ‘not a stunt in any way’ “.[1]
President Ford’s Appointments Secretary, Warren Rustand, replied “The President has asked me to thank you for your thoughtfulness in offering to arrange for a closed circuit telecast to the White House . . . .  Unfortunately, the President will be traveling outside Washington at that time and will be unable to take advantage of your kind offer.”[2]

* * * * *

ali-foreman-punch

(c)UPI/Barcroft Images

The fight took place on October 30.  Ali won with a knockout in the 8th round.  The embassy sent the following report.

 

* * * * *

At the suggestion of the embassy, President Ford sent a message to President Mobutu of Zaire.  The final message read:

I would like to express my appreciation for the warm hospitality extended by your great country to two outstanding American fighters and to the many other Americans who went to Zaire for the heavyweight championship fight.  Through Zaire’s support of this major sporting event, our two peoples have learned more about each other and the basis of our friendship has been strengthened.  Warmest personal wishes.[3]

* * * * *

After the fight, the embassy reported the Zairian government’s conclusions about the event.

1974kinsha09348

Telegram from American Embassy Kinshasa re: Ali-Foreman: GOZ Counts Blessings, 11/7/1974

 

Several days later, the embassy provided additional information on the receipts from ticket sales and worldwide closed circuit television.  It reported receiving information that the receipts totaled “three or four times” the purse paid to the boxers and that Zaire’s share of the after-purse balance was 43%.[4]

* * * * *

Mention of the fight subsequently appeared in several significant reports from the embassy in Kinshasa.  On November 27, 1974, the embassy reported on President Mobutu’s anniversary address of November 25.  The embassy reported that Mobutu rejected criticism, claimed the event was “masterfully staged,” and denied any governmental financial loss.[5]  In a long December 31, 1974, telegram entitled “Zaire 1974-Implications for the US in 1975,” the embassy noted that Zaire had spent significant sums of money on prestige projects such as the Foreman-Ali fight but little on assisting the majority of the people who were subsistence farmers.[6]  On January 7, 1975, the embassy reported on President Mobutu’s year-end report to the Legislative Council.  In summarizing Zaire’s foreign policy and outlining internal policy goals, the embassy quoted Mobutu as noting that the Ali-Foreman fight had put Zaire on the map worldwide.[7]


Sources:  All documents displayed and referenced come from the Electronic Telegrams file of the Department of State’s Central Foreign Policy File (NAID 654098), part of RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  Those records can be found online as part of the National Archives’ Access to Archival Databases under “Diplomatic Records.”

I appreciate the assistance of my colleague Cate Brennan.


[1] 1974KINSHA08658, October 15, 1974.

[2] 1974STATE236847, October 26, 1974.

[3] 1974KINSHA09076, October 30, 1974; 1974STATE241057, November 1, 1974; 1974KINSHA09191, November 2, 1974.

[4] 1974KINSHA09348, November 7, 1974.

[5] 1974KINSHA10011, November 27, 1974.

[6] 1974KINSHA11009, December 31, 1974.

[7] 1975KINSHA00137, January 7, 1975.

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2 Responses to The Department of State Reports on the George Foreman-Muhammad Ali Fight (“The Rumble in the Jungle”) 1974, Part II

  1. Ray Bottorff Jr says:

    Kudos David, Cate, and Netisha! It was a blast to read the reports and all the “behind-the-scenes” issues and even drama (if you will) of this legendary fight.

    I wonder if there is reports out of the Philippine Embassy for the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” Ali vs Fraser final fight. You could make a series of these posts if there are!

    Well done everyone! Really enjoyable!

    Like

  2. The Department of State’s Central Foreign Policy File does not include anything about the Ali-Fraser fight.

    Like

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