Boxing has been one of the most popular sports in the world. Most title matches are televised, expecting millions of viewers to watch them. But did you know that Ali’s bout with Foreman was actually watched by approximately 25% of the world’s population?
The “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974 was a commercial success. It was estimated that about a billion people watched Ali beat Foreman. At the time, the world’s population was only 4 billion, so a quarter of all humanity was watching the fight.
The Rumble in the Jungle
In 1974, Don King, a Cleveland-born boxing promoter, put together a title fight between heavyweight champion George Foreman and former champion turned challenger Muhammed Ali. King was known to be charming and charismatic, and he was able to convince both Foreman and Ali for the fight. King promised a handsome $5 million fee for both boxers just to show up.
King didn’t have the $10 million to pay the boxers but could get a hold of the money when he successfully acquired it from Mobutu Sese Seko, president of the Republic of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seko agreed to pay the money on one condition that the fight is held in his country.
This was Africa’s first heavyweight championship match, and Seko wanted it to be an avenue to draw the world’s attention to his republic, its beauty, and its vast reserves of natural resources. King promoted the event as a cultural coming back to Africa deal. (Source: Origins)
The match was initially scheduled for September 25, 1974, but was pushed back a month due to Foreman getting injured in a sparring session. The fight proceeded on October 30, 1974, lasting eight rounds. The match was considered a turning point for both boxers’ careers but primarily for Ali. He regained his heavyweight champion status after losing it in 1967 for draft-dodging from military service.
The match started at 4:30 AM local time for it to coincide with the US Primetime. In the first rounds, Foreman delivered powerful punches to Ali, who continuously dodged his blows. By the fifth round, the heavyweight champion started becoming tired. His powerful blows became taps and jabs.
By the eighth round, Ali overtook Foreman. He intentionally wore down Foreman and unleashed a barrage of quick punches. The champion fell and was not able to recover anymore. Ali has regained his title back. (Source: History)
The Real Business
Despite the bout being considered as one of the greatest title matches in history, the real money was made outside the ring. Most of the revenue from the fight came from closed-circuit television and rebroadcasting rights.
Live closed-circuit viewing was available in over 400 venues in the US alone, with prices ranging from $20-$80. Closed-circuit viewing was also available globally, estimating $100 million of revenue from international markets and broadcasting fees. The fight’s promotion was so successful that it was estimated that a billion people watched the fight globally.
Seko’s investment was also successful. He was able to attract attention to Zaire, making money on the closed-circuit viewing as well. (Source: Origins)