The Colonel remembers The Rumble in the Jungle » January 16, 2023

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By Ray Wheatley – World of Boxing

Hall of Fame broadcaster Colonel Bob Sheridan talks to Fightnews.com® about the famous Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Promoter of Rumble in the Jungle

“I wasn’t advised by Don King to work the Rumble in the Jungle. He wasn’t the promoter. Video Techniques, who did the Frankie Otero vs. Ken Buchanan fight in Miami, were the promoters. They were going to bring in some big name announcer from New York to do the fight because it was only going to England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“Chris Dundee, the promoter who I did the weekly shows for here, said ‘We got a young kid here who can call boxing better than anybody.’ So they said they like my work. A guy by the name of Barry Bernstein and Hank Schwartz, they were the guys who were involved in rear screen projection in the early days, they were engineers. So they hired me and I did all their fights after that including “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

Gene Kilroy

“Of all the people involved in the Ali vs. Foreman fight in Zaire, there are not many still alive. There is Gene Kilroy who ran the training camp for Muhammad Ali who said to me the other day there is only Rahman Ali, Jerry Isenberg, you and I are who are the only ones left. Jim Brown, the famous football player who was a guest commentator would be another one left. Gene Kilroy became the manager of Muhammad Ali after first meeting a young Cassius Clay at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Gene was the public relations guy for the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League and from there he went to work with Muhammad.

“He was the only bit of sanity that was involved in that corner besides Angelo Dundee who was also a stabling factor in the Ali camp. Gene Kilroy was the key guy. He organized the Deer Lake Camp in Pennsylvania so Ali could work out every day. Gene has had his bouts with cancer. We talk often to each other and go out for dinner with Jerry Izenberg, a famous boxing writer. We all live in Las Vegas. We have dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. Jerry is 93 years of age and does a weekly column for the Newark Star. He is a great writer and has several books out. We both went into the Hall of Fame together. That same weekend Gene Kilroy ran the funeral for Muhammad Ali in Kentucky. I was going to speak there but I couldn’t because I was being inducted at the International Boxing Hall of Fame.”

Jerry Izenberg

“Jerry Izenberg told me a story about the night after the Ali vs. Foreman fight – I was staying in a hotel in Kinsasha and a lot of the writers were staying with Ali at the President’s Palace. I got all the exposure I needed with Muhammad so I wasn’t a Muhammad groupie. He was more a friend. Jerry told me he was taking a walk near the Palace and had seen Ali by the Congo River thanking God for giving him the strength to defeat Foreman. I thought that was pretty unique. That says something about the religious beliefs of Muhammad. He was a true Muslim. He really believed in it.”

James Brown

“James Brown – the singer who performed at the three-day concert in Zaire – what a character he was. He did commentary with me on the Chuck Wepner vs. Muhammad Ali fight. Redd Foxx was also a commentator. James is taking quaaludes and at some point he says to me ‘Bob – you are calling those punches before they happen.’ The producer David Fox says James’ microphone is dead except between rounds and after that Redd Foxx was doing cocaine at ringside. He was so hyped up you couldn’t understand a thing he was saying. David Fox said now his microphone is dead. People don’t realize what distractions broadcasters sometimes have to go through. HBO and Showtime are the real professionals.”

David Frost

“My co-commentator in Zaire was David Frost. He was a professional broadcaster in England but he had never done a large sporting event. He was a real distraction for me. He was sitting next to me as the prime co-commentator. He was cheering so much and jumping up and down. I said ‘David, you gotta calm down.’ He said during the fight, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this in my life.’”

Don King

“It was Don King who had the idea of having the Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman fight in Zaire. But he was not the promoter. He put the fight together. It was his brain trust and his brilliance. He came up with the idea of having the fight in Zaire. No one had heard of Zaire. It was previously the Belgium Congo and now it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have all the respect in the world for Don. To this day he is a genius.”

Larry Holmes

“I witnessed a lot of Muhammad Ali sparring sessions with Larry Holmes and it became apparent to me that Larry was going to be world champion one day. He dominated Ali but you don’t always know when a guy like Ali is messing around. The Ali sparring partners were working as hard as they could. There is a big variance of what is real and what isn’t real. But it was clear that Larry had very fast hands also great footwork and worked with trainer Richie Giachetti who was very close to Don King going back to the Cleveland days and they got along great to the later years.

“Larry is still a great friend of mine. I got the feeling he might be the greatest heavyweight of all-time. People might argue with me when I am making speeches and say that and I get booed, but I have been in the business for 60 years and I have seen a lot of fights and I have broadcast thousands of fights. I got a right to have an opinion.”

Foreman Cut in Sparring

“When George Foreman got cut in sparring (Bill McMurray) and could not fight on September 24 and the fight was pushed back until October 30, there was a real problem with that. There were only four communication satellites at that time and this was the first time they were being used simultaneously.”

Rope-A-Dope

“It was definitely Ali’s idea to use the ‘Rope-a-Dope’ tactic. No one had ever heard of that before. When Ali was training he would do a thousand sit-ups after public workouts behind closed doors with a guy from Cuba, Luis Sorea. Ali would do sit-ups on the end of the bench in sets working up to one thousand. Angelo directed that but Luis Sorea helped Ali get the body in shape in shape.

“The background story is before the fight Angelo wanted to tighten the ropes. But Ali’s people said ‘leave the ropes alone because that’s the way Ali wants them.’ By bringing his elbows in and covering his chin, Ali was able to absorb those thunderous booming punches. Ali’s tactic to wear George down and stop him in a late round worked.”

One Billion Watched Fight Live

“The fight went to one billion people live throughout the world with the world’s population in 1974 being four billion. Twenty-six million people in the UK watched the fight and their total population was fifty-six million. Almost half the population watched the fight in England. Not only the biggest sporting event but a historic television event.

“That’s incredible in sporting terms and in television terms.”

How Don King Got Financial Backing

“Fred Weymar, an American advisor to Zaire’s Mbutu persuaded the dictator that the publicity of such a high-profile event would generate and help his regime. In a TV interview, King stated that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was involved in making the payment for the purse money for the athletes and other major expenses, although the precise process was not made clear. King had pulled together a consortium that included Risnelia Investment from Panama and the British company Hemdale Film Corporation, Video Techniques Incorporated of New York, and Don King Productions. Although King is most closely associated with the fight, Hemdale and Video Techniques Inc., with whom King was a director, were the bout’s official co-promoters. The fight was broadcast on closed-circuit television in theaters in the United States and on over-the-air television.”



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