By Ray Wheatley – World of Boxing
Hall of Famer Colonel Bob Sheridan talks to Fightnews.com® about the “Rumble in the Jungle” when Muhammad Ali regained the heavyweight championship by knocking out George Foreman in eight rounds in Kinshasa, Zaire on October 30, 1974.
Sheridan broadcast the live pay-per-view on closed-circuit television, also known as theatre television, to venues across the world. The fight had a record estimated 50 million viewers on closed-circuit television worldwide, grossing an estimated $100 million in revenue.
In total, including closed-circuit and free television, the fight was watched by an estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers worldwide – about a quarter of the world’s 4 billion population in 1974.
“It was football season and I had done a fight in New York and we get on an Icelandic Airlines flight because that flight was chartered for all the media. All the boxing writers were on that flight. It was so crowded and in those days you could smoke on airlines. I was in an aisle seat and the guy next to me was Bob Waters from the Chicago Times and all he did was complain, so I said to him, ‘Bob, I know I am a young broadcaster but would you want to miss this fight?” Bob said, “You’re right young fella. I’m glad I’m here.”
“So we get to Iceland and it was breakfast time and we all get off the plane. Typical media in those days we all have a few pops. I thought what the hell are we doing?. We are going to equatorial Africa and here we are in Iceland. We refueled and went to Trier in Germany. That is where Murray Goodman the Hall of Fame publicist was there waiting for us. They transported us to the 747 aircraft that President Mobutu sent to pick up the media. That was a tripped out 747 – not like AirForce One but pretty fancy that flight was.”
George Foreman cut in sparring
“When we were told George Foreman was cut in sparring. (Foreman wanted to go back to the USA while cut healed but was not allowed.) I knew if Foreman was cut this fight was not going to happen and I had to go back because I would have lost my job if I got stuck in Zaire for a month. I flew back to Iceland and on to Miami.
“At that time I was the highest-paid sportscaster in television as a very young man in 1974. I was 30 years old. Six weeks later I remember, Mobutu knew I was the lead announcer, but he didn’t know who Bob Sheridan was. I had called over six thousand fights on radio in Miami. I was selected, I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I was by far the best boxing announcer in the world. I didn’t need a color commentator because I could analyze a fight better than any fighter could and I could deliver it because I worked in television.”
Back in Zaire
“I went back to Zaire and spent a week there. All the top boxing writers wanted to stay near the President’s palace. It was beautiful out there but I knew more about Muhammad Ali than all the press knew. I didn’t need to go to the press conferences. Angelo Dundee and Ferdie Pacheco were friends of mine also Gene Kilroy was my best friend of all of them, and he knew where all the skeletons were buried. Gene lives in Las Vegas today and we have dinner from time to time. Gene says to me, ‘You know, we are the only ones alive that were so close to Muhammad Ali.'”
“Muhammad Ali didn’t do drugs and never drank and trained properly but his only weakness was women. It never affected him in fights. He was that much of a showman.”
(Muhammad Ali met Veronica Porche in Zaire while training for George Foreman. Ali and Porche later married)
Rope-a-Dope Strategy by Ali
“The ring was 19-foot was supplied by Everlast. Ali wanted a 20-foot ring and Foreman wanted an 18-foot ring. Muhammad Ali didn’t listen to anybody. Angelo Dundee only came in three days before the fight. Gene Kilroy ran Muhammad Ali. It was Muhammad who came up with the idea of the “Rope-a-Dope.” Bobby Goodman, who worked for George Foreman, started to tighten the ropes but Bundini Brown said to Bobby that Muhammad wants them loose.
“Bobby and his father Murray are both in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and great friends of mine. Bobby was matchmaker at Madison Square Garden and later worked for Don King Productions.
“That was the greatest strategy by Muhammad. Remember what I told you about Luis Soria who helped Muhammad with groundwork on his body. Ali covered up and Foreman pounded Ali’s body. Thundering punches. Ali asked for the ropes to be loosened. Ali’s body was so well conditioned that his body could take those punches. Can you imagine how conditioned his body was after doing one thousand sit-ups in workouts? Ali went on to score an eight round knockout.”
(Ali ahead on all three cards. Zach Clayton. 68-66 James Taylor 69-66 Nourridine Adallah 70-67)
(WBC, WBA Heavyweight Championship)
Monsoon Began After Telecast
“Had that fight been one day later it never would have happened. The fight was scheduled for September because October is the rainy season. Right at the end of the telecast, the clouds opened up and the rains came. All our communications equipment was three feet underwater. The electricity went out. One day later and that fight doesn’t happen and if Foreman was allowed to leave Zaire after being cut the fight doesn’t happen.”
The Rumble in the Jungle is one of Ali’s most famous fights, ranking alongside 1971’s Fight of the Century between the unbeaten former champion Ali and the unbeaten then-heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and the pair’s final match the Thrilla in Manila in 1975. The Rumble in the Jungle remains a large cultural influence.