Rumble in the jungle

Rumble in the jungle

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On 30 October 1974, a fight for the world heavyweight championship took place between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire.

The bout between the then undefeated world heavyweight champion, Foreman, and his charismatic challenger, Ali, came to be known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”. It is often called one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th Century.

Ali eventually triumphed, knocking Foreman down in the eighth round and reclaiming the title from his significantly younger opponent.

To mark the anniversary of Ali’s death last year at the age of 74, photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham visited Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire was renamed in 1997) to meet some of the boxers hoping to follow in Ali’s footsteps.

The fight was held in the Stade Tata Raphael. Although still surrounded by huge floodlights, it is in a state of disrepair, with only a few of the bulbs remaining.

The stadium is home to a boxing club named in Ali’s honour and the next generation of Congolese boxers still hold him in high regard.

There are about 120 semi-regular attendees, including more than 40 who hope to box professionally. Sparring often takes place outside the stadium.

Jorbelle Malewu sits outside the Muhammad Ali Memorial Club, where she has been training since 2010.

Mainly inspired by Mike Tyson, she hopes to go on to box full-time as a professional. At present, she is unemployed.

Another boxer at the club, Dina Yame, practises outside. For him, Ali is an icon. He complains that the government provides no money for the upkeep of the Stade facilities.

There is a shortage of equipment, particularly gloves, and there is no boxing ring so sparring takes place freely around the compound.

However, at fights spectators still sit in the same stands where roughly 60,000 people gathered to watch Ali defeat Foreman.

Dorcas Lukamba has been boxing at the club for only three months, but she is aware of Ali’s skill, having seen footage of his fights on DVD.

Her coach, Carlos Kabongo, sits in his office underneath the stadium. Kabongo is a former boxing champion with three gold medals, who modelled his technique on the quick-footed fighting style of “The Greatest”.

He agrees with Yame about the lack of funding and dislikes the fact that he must charge youngsters a small fee to train within the stadium’s historic premises.

Now the director of the state-run television station, RTNC, Pierre Celeste Kabala was a 27-year-old radio journalist at the time of the fight.

He remembers an atmosphere of pure elation in the city in anticipation of the American boxers’ arrival.

He too bemoans the lack of support structures and funding for today’s Congolese boxers.

The abandoned palace of the country’s former leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, stands in Nsele, east of Kinshasa. Ali and Foreman spent much of their summer training here, becoming acclimatised to the tropical weather.

The area is now overgrown and a glaring contrast with the nearby villages.

The ruins are guarded by a handful of troops, but there is little of worth left to protect.

Photographs by Hugh Kinsella Cunningham.

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