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'I felt death in the air' - Ali v Foreman | Inside story of 'Rumble in the Jungle'

The 'Rumble in the Jungle' is unquestionably one of the most famous fights in boxing history - as...



'I felt death in the air' - Al...
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'I felt death in the air' - Ali v Foreman | Inside story of 'Rumble in the Jungle'

The 'Rumble in the Jungle' is unquestionably one of the most famous fights in boxing history - as a 32-year-old Muhammad Ali won his heavyweight world crown back against the fancied 25-year-old George Foreman. 

The fight took place in a sweaty, noisy stadium in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ali's business manager Gene Kilroy remembers the night - October 30th, 1974 - very well.

Kilroy joined Off The Ball's Shane Hannon for an excusive in-depth interview, and he recalled Ali's confidence in the build-up.

"Ali didn't have any fear, Ali had no fear of him. Ali said to Cus D'Amato, 'How do I fight this guy?' He said 'You must throw your punches with bad intentions.'

"He said 'Your first punch you must hit him so hard.' I said 'Well, look Cus, look what Foreman did to [Ken] Norton, what he did to [Joe] Frazier.'

"'That's not Ali!' So Ali said 'I know what I'm doing.' I went into the dressing room when they were taping Foreman's hands, Dick Sadler was there, Archie Moore. I felt death in the air.

"I go back to Ali's dressing room and he says 'What's he saying?' I said 'He's talking about putting your kids in an orphanage.'

"[And Ali said] 'Oh, I can't wait to get him.' Ali abused him. George used to knock guys down and step on them to get to the neutral corner, he couldn't do that with Ali. Ali had no fear. Ali had no fear!"

As the member of Ali's team that was present in Foreman's dressing room pre-fight for the gloving process, Kilroy is in a unique position to compare the atmosphere in his dressing room with that for 'The Greatest.'

Gene Kilroy (background right) watches on as Muhammad Ali downs George Foreman in the eighth round of their 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Zaire.

"We were relaxed in our dressing room, in Foreman's they were pretty tense. Ali's [attitude was] 'This is my fight tonight, I came back to Africa to get my crown.'

"Ali was so popular in Africa, if he had told the people 'I want to be your king' they might have marched Mobutu out of there! The people loved him, everybody loved him over there.

"When we got off the airplane [over to Zaire] Ali turned to me and said 'Who don't they like here?' I said 'I guess white people.'

"He said 'Well, I can't say George Foreman's white! Who else?' And I said 'The Belgians.' So we got off and everyone was screaming 'Ali! Ali! Ali!'

"And Ali goes 'Shhh! George Foreman's a Belgian.' And they started screaming 'Ali Bomaye!' I asked our interpreter 'What does that mean?' [He said] 'That means 'Ali, kill him!'

"The Belgians used to put German police dogs on the blacks over there, so when George gets off the airplane he had a dog there, Diego. His German Shepherd dog. He walked out and the people are chanting 'Belgian, Belgian!' I said 'Ali, we're home free!'"

Kilroy also recalls Ali threatening not to fight in the last moments before making his ringwalk, determined to have the poor people outside the stadium who couldn't afford tickets as part of the crowd.

"Tickets were so expensive. There must have been maybe 15,000 poor people outside the stadium. You could hear 'Ali Bomaye!', you could hear them from [inside] the stadium.

"This was like an hour before the fight, so  I got in touch with the top aide to Mobutu, I said 'Ali wants to see you.' We go back to the dressing room and Ali said, 'If you don't let those people in I'm not fighting.'

"And he [Mobutu's aide] said that wasn't fair to people who bought tickets. 'Well, I'm not fighting', Ali said. Sweat came over [Mobutu's aide], he went out and let the people in. That was Ali."

If you watch the fight back on YouTube, you can clearly see Kilroy is the first man into the ring to get to Ali, keen to get him away quickly so he avoid being swarmed by the crowd.

"My biggest fear was, should he get hurt, the hospitals were terrible. I just couldn't believe it, it's over, we're done now. I begged him to retire [after the Foreman fight.] I begged him, Elijah Muhammad begged him... we didn't want him to fight anymore.

"But he liked the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd, he liked that."


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Gene Kilroy George Foreman Muhammad Ali Off The Ball Rumble In The Jungle Shane Hannon Zaire