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Photograph of Hank Schwartz in Kinshasa Stadium

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Photograph of Hank Schwartz in Kinshasa Stadium

- Item No.

Item Details

  • Period:
    20th Century
  • Origin:
    America
The Rumble in the Jungle World Heavyweight Boxing match of 1974 is considered the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. This black and white photograph from the private collection of Henry "Hank" Schwartz depicts the boxing promoter and telecommunications expert standing in Kinshasa Stadium, with an image of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in the background. The fabled match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was the first telecast from Zaire, and resulted in Ali regaining the World Heavyweight Championship. Schwartz's efforts were responsible for establishing not only a successful, global boxing event, but also building an entire telecommunications infrastructure for the country. The Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was so much more than a championship fight-it was the coming together of some of the most charismatic people in the entire world. It was also the first time that many Americans became interested in the African continent.   

  Despite the public desire to see Foreman and Ali fight, nobody had come up with a tempting enough dollar figure for either. The promoter of the fight was the telecommunications genius Hank Schwartz, whose vice president then was Don King. Through his friendship with the fighters, King was able to separately get signed contracts from both Forman and Ali; each to accept $5,000,000 to fight. This was a huge amount of money in 1974 and more than quadruple what any "purse" had been previously. Hank was quickly able to raise $400,000 to give the fighters each their $200,000 signing bonus, but his deal to raise the remaining $9.6 million from the Lowes Theater fell through. Right before the contract with Ali and Foreman would of gone void, Schwartz received a call from a Belgium businessman stating that a former Belgium colony in Africa would be willing to put up the rest of the money for the fight. The country of Zaire, led by its very colorful eccentric ruler Mobutu Sese Seko, agreed to put up the money if the fight would be held in its capital city of Kinshasa.  

  Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga was the President of Zaire from 1965 to 1997.  He was perhaps the most memorable of all the African dictatorial leaders. Although he was a good friend of the West, he also ruled his kingdom as a fiefdom and personally stole much of the aid that came in. When he committed to Schwartz to make up the balance of the $10,000,000 purse, the country of Zaire's infrastructure was in no shape to handle the fight. From the phone system, to the roads, to the hotels, to the stadium, and perhaps most importantly, to the electrical grid that would allow the fight to be televised around the world, the country was nowhere close to being prepared for an event of this magnitude. It became Schwartz's job to get Zaire ready for the fight. The match was originally scheduled for September 24th, 1974, but Forman was cut during training and it was postponed five weeks to October 30th. Schwartz became quite concerned that the promised Zairian communications upgrades would not be installed in time and that the fight would have to be cancelled. In a meeting with Mobuto, his Minister of Communications, and two of Mobuto's military officers, Schwartz complained bitterly about the lack of progress. As Schwartz tells it in his book, Mobuto and his officers then retreated to a corner to speak. Mobuto's general came back, pulled out his gun, and shot the Minister of Communication fatally in his head! Mobuto then turned to Hank and said "You are now the Minister of Communication of Zaire!" Schwartz held this position from 1974-1978.  

  To say there were other difficulties putting on the fight would be a huge understatement. In Hank's book he explained how every "no problem" meant big problems and how the government was often too dysfunctional to get the smallest thing done.  For three months Schwartz worked every angle to get the fights preparations moving. Some of the fascinating events that happened included Mobuto picking up not only all known criminals, but all their associates also, before the "foreign reporters" arrived. This "removal of the unwanted" changed the capital city of Kinshasa overnight from one of the most dangerous places in the world to one of the safest. Ali, through his characteristic charm and charisma, gained the support of the Zaire people. Everywhere Ali went, the crowds would chant "Ali, bomaye" which translated to "Ali, kill him". Mobuto also made Schwartz set up a private viewing of the fight on closed circuit TV for him since, despite this being the most significant event since independence for his country, his fear of assassination overruled his desire to attend the match!  

  The Rumble in the Jungle did happen, a good measure of which was due to Schwartz. The match missed the rainy season by only an hour, as right after the battle ended the downpours began (and lasted for months).  Ali, who was a huge underdog, was able to regain the heavyweight crown and defeated Foreman by using his "rope-a-dope" technique, which caused the bigger man to punch himself out. Foreman, who later became good friends with Ali, said that near the end of the fight, after a barrage of blows that Forman unleashed, Ali taunted him by saying "Is that all you got George?" to which Foreman thought to himself "Yes, that is all I got".  The fight itself is considered a classic and is considered by all experts to be one of the most important boxing matches of all time.

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