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The Rumble in the Jungle: Muhammad Ali and George Foreman on the Global Stage

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The 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, staged in the young nation of Zaire and dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle, was arguably the biggest sporting event of the twentieth century. The bout between an ascendant undefeated champ and an outspoken master trying to reclaim the throne was a true multimedia spectacle. A three-day festival of international music—fea The 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, staged in the young nation of Zaire and dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle, was arguably the biggest sporting event of the twentieth century. The bout between an ascendant undefeated champ and an outspoken master trying to reclaim the throne was a true multimedia spectacle. A three-day festival of international music—featuring James Brown, Miriam Makeba, and many others—preceded the fight itself, which was viewed by a record-breaking one billion people worldwide. Lewis A. Erenberg’s new book provides a global perspective on this singular match, not only detailing the titular fight but also locating it at the center of the cultural dramas of the day. TheRumble in the Jungle orbits around Ali and Foreman, placing them at the convergence of the American Civil Rights movement and the Great Society, the rise of Islamic and African liberation efforts, and the ongoing quest to cast off the shackles of colonialism. With his far-reaching take on sports, music, marketing, and mass communications, Erenberg shows how one boxing match became nothing less than a turning point in 1970s culture.


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The 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, staged in the young nation of Zaire and dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle, was arguably the biggest sporting event of the twentieth century. The bout between an ascendant undefeated champ and an outspoken master trying to reclaim the throne was a true multimedia spectacle. A three-day festival of international music—fea The 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, staged in the young nation of Zaire and dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle, was arguably the biggest sporting event of the twentieth century. The bout between an ascendant undefeated champ and an outspoken master trying to reclaim the throne was a true multimedia spectacle. A three-day festival of international music—featuring James Brown, Miriam Makeba, and many others—preceded the fight itself, which was viewed by a record-breaking one billion people worldwide. Lewis A. Erenberg’s new book provides a global perspective on this singular match, not only detailing the titular fight but also locating it at the center of the cultural dramas of the day. TheRumble in the Jungle orbits around Ali and Foreman, placing them at the convergence of the American Civil Rights movement and the Great Society, the rise of Islamic and African liberation efforts, and the ongoing quest to cast off the shackles of colonialism. With his far-reaching take on sports, music, marketing, and mass communications, Erenberg shows how one boxing match became nothing less than a turning point in 1970s culture.

28 review for The Rumble in the Jungle: Muhammad Ali and George Foreman on the Global Stage

  1. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    In an era of intense global tensions, where sport, cultural and global politics were increasingly interwoven, where anticolonial struggles were still at a high point as two global superpowers waged proxy wars often laid over separate independence wars, and where the rhetoric of the separation of sport and politics was at one of its high points, there was little that resonated quite like the Ali-Foreman heavyweight title fight in Kinshasa in October 1974. Fuelled by what at the time was new satel In an era of intense global tensions, where sport, cultural and global politics were increasingly interwoven, where anticolonial struggles were still at a high point as two global superpowers waged proxy wars often laid over separate independence wars, and where the rhetoric of the separation of sport and politics was at one of its high points, there was little that resonated quite like the Ali-Foreman heavyweight title fight in Kinshasa in October 1974. Fuelled by what at the time was new satellite technologies the fight was globally broadcast to closed circuit centres, cinemas, homes and (in my case, and if I’m remembering correctly) high school class rooms for a monumental audience; in retrospect it is hard to explain what a phenomenon it was and why it mattered in quite the way it did. The fight was overburdened with signification. The title had been in dispute since Ali had been stripped of it after his refusal of the draft to fight in Vietnam, yet here he was back in the ring after a long legal battle to have that decision overturned. On top of that, here was an icon of civil rights and anti-war struggle who’d inspired athlete activism at the Mexico Olympics up against a US-flag waving medallist at those same games (who paradoxically had endorsed George McGovern against Nixon in the 68 election, linking himself to the figure seen as the anti-war candidate). In an era of shifting terms of Black Nationalism, here were two African American men returning to the continental homeland to contest world domination in what was seen by many as a successful postcolonial state. For the boxing purists, there was also the distinction in styles – a sharp talking, elegant, fast footwork stylist versus a slugger, beauty versus raw power. This was a global event of huge significance. It is also an event now increasingly overdetermined by nostalgia largely shaped by the 1997 documentary When We Were Kings focussing on Ali’s redemption through the fight. Erenberg has a lot to cut through to explore the fight, its weight and its relevance, and he does this well. He weaves together Ali and Foreman’s lives, their styles and demeanours, their pre- and extra-boxing lives to give us a rich sense of the characters and the reasons for their differing profiles. Given what we know of each of them, this is no easy task to make new which is in some ways the book’s principal limitation: so much has been written, said, shown about the fight. To a large degree this makes the book’s major contribution its weaving together of things already well-known to open up the events to new readers and account for its significance in a contemporary light. There are two things the book does do well that are often overlooked in other discussions. First, Erenberg gives considerable attention to the music festival intended to coincide with the fight, but isolated by its delay. Crucially, here, he explores all three musical traditions brought together – the US funk tradition, Latin American salsa-type sounds, and local musicians – in terms of trans-Atlantic flows, Zairian musical cultures and tendencies within each style: that is, he answers the question, why these musicians in Zaire in 1974. Secondly, he explores the 1997 film as a form of nostalgia building and nostalgic engagement. This, like much of the non-musical cultural analysis, is however relatively lightly handled, as is much of his discussion of the responses to Ali’s victory in the Global South, with only brief consideration of a small number of mainly African newspaper sources. Much as the discussion of the film and of the South’s responses to the fight is welcome, it feels like a lost opportunity to more fully consider the fight as a global event – after all, the subtitle places Foreman and Ali on a global stage, which Erenberg does well, showing the role of global media production in staging the fight but he fails to fully consider the global responses. Similarly, the references to the film’s nostalgic aspects is brief, with the film used largely to draw together the four key Black figures – Foreman, Ali, Don King and Mobutu Sese Seko – and sum up their post-fight careers (although Ali and Foreman get a full extra chapter). In short, then, this is a welcome addition to an already extensive literature on a global event, but one that could have done so much more had the event’s global significance been considered in a fuller sense.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bupe Chama

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eric Matthews

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Foldi

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

  9. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Shannon

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gregson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nate

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mike Jarsulic

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tomfoolery72

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ian

  18. 4 out of 5

    Russell Field

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kris Stam

  20. 4 out of 5

    Corey Herlevsen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mack

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paula Daza

  23. 4 out of 5

    THOMAS RYASKO

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sean Pearson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Evan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  27. 4 out of 5

    ALex Múdra

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tsahi

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