When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings is a 1996 documentary film directed by Leon Gast about the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight championship match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The fight was held in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974.

Promoter Don King is shown working on his first big promotion, and singers James Brown and B. B. King performing in Zaire. The film contains footage of the “black Woodstock” soul music festival accompanying the fight, which is more fully documented in the 2008 film Soul Power. The film also emphasises the questionable ethics of locating the fight in Zaïre, as it was funded by the brutal dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The film shows much of the fight itself, particularly Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” which caused Foreman to expend too much energy and resulted in his eighth-round knockout. It describes in detail Ali’s repeated use of the “right-hand lead” in the early rounds, a rarely-used punch in professional boxing because it opens the boxer up for easy attack, and therefore the punch that Foreman was least prepared for. Ali is shown taking what look like heavy blows from the hard-throwing Foreman, which are lessened by Ali’s quick reflexes and use of the ropes. As Foreman throws with power, Ali is able to use his trademark quick hands to damage the heavyweight champion, and in the eighth round Ali knocks out the exhausted Foreman, regaining the championship taken from him for his refusal to be drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

 

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