In the early 1970’s, Muhammad Ali was a clearly superior heavyweight boxer to George Foreman. Yet, Ali was denied his title shot against Foreman fairly and fairly upset at being denied his shot at reclaiming his title from Joe Frazier. Ali had a litany of grievances against the decision, including a report that Ali’s camp was bribing the referee.
In the 1970s Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought a legendary boxing match. Ali was a boxer who was known for his speed and quickness, while Foreman was a heavyweight who was known for his punching power. The two boxers were both undefeated going into the fight, and both had more than enough talent to beat the other. Foreman broke his foot less than two weeks before the fight, but had more than enough time to recover, while Ali had to fight despite the damage to his foot. The fight was fought in an attempt to make history, and Ali more than succeeded, knocking out Foreman in the eighth round.
As you know, the well-publicized fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman took place at the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire on October 30, 1974. Ali won the fight by unanimous decision after 15 rounds. Everyone remembers the fourth round, when Ali knocked out George Foreman. For the first half of the fight, Ali’s camp was very concerned that George Foreman would hurt Ali badly. They paid the referee $50,000 to stop the fight as soon as Ali was hit. It worked.
Muhammad Ali, 32, knocked out 25-year-old George Foreman to win the Rumble in the Jungle and reclaim the Heavyweight championship in one of the most memorable boxing (and overall sports) events of the twentieth century. There are numerous interpretations regarding what occurred in Kinshasa, Zaire during this famous occasion. Some attribute Ali’s win to his clever “rope-a-dope” tactics, while others, like Foreman, believe foul play was involved.
However, one thing is certain. The ref, who is also a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, decided to play it straight down the middle. How can we, as well as the competitors, be certain that the referee remained impartial during the fight? Because he was bribed by both sides to do so.
The Rumble in the Jungle had to take place somewhere other than America.
Don King, a well-known boxing promoter, signed $5 million contracts with both George Foreman and Muhammad Ali to have them fight each other. Because no promoter in the United States, including King, could make a $10 million fight happen in 1974, these contracts helped protect King from another promoter poaching the two big draws.
That is why King chose to fight in a foreign country. To get that kind of money, King teamed up with Mobutu Sese Seko, the African dictator. According to History.com, he personally paid the fighters’ purses.
The fight began at 4:30 a.m. local time, which corresponded to prime time in the United States. Sixty thousand people were present in person, with an estimated 50 million watching on television. The fight was a classic, with Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy leading to Foreman’s exhaustion in the eighth round. That’s when Ali got the knockout and regained his title.
Referee Zack Clayton was in charge of the proceedings, and his backstory is just as interesting as Ali’s or Foreman’s. He ensured a fair fight because he was paid by both camps to do so.
Muhammad Ali, Zack Clayton, and George Foreman | Bettmann / Contributor / Bettmann / Contributor / Contributor / Contribut
The camps of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman each paid the referee.
Jonathan Eig, an Ali biographer, joined The Ryen Russillo Podcast to share some Muhammad Ali stories and discuss how both sides handled Clayton prior to the Rumble in the Jungle.
‘Well, we gave the ref 5,000 bucks to make sure they didn’t do anything crazy,’ Foreman said. For example, out of sheer adrenaline, Foreman would occasionally hit someone while they were on their way down. ‘We gave ’em $5,000 just to make sure it was a fair fight,’ he says. Then Foreman added, “But I later found out that Ali gave the ref $10,000.” And when I told [Ali’s business manager] Gene Kilroy about it, he laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous!” That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! ‘We only gave him five dollars!’
The Rumble in the Jungle, according to Jonathan Eig
There have been rumors that this happened before the fight for years, but Foreman has always maintained that Ali paid more. Eig’s conversation with Kilroy suggests that both parties contributed an equal amount to the referee’s wallet, so neither party should have a reason to complain.
Clayton’s acceptance of money from both sides is just another fascinating chapter in the life of a man who could easily claim the title of the World’s Most Interesting Man.
Zack Clayton, the referee for Rumble in the Jungle, had an incredible life.
Clayton had one of the most interesting sports careers of anyone in history before officiating the Rumble in the Jungle (and taking money from both sides).
According to The Undefeated, the 6-foot-1 point guard was dubbed the “Philly Phantom” or the “Black Bomber” as a kid because of his long-range shooting. He was a member of the New York Renaissance, the first African-American-owned and operated professional basketball team. In 2017, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to this historic team.
Clayton was also a member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and played first base for several different Negro League clubs from 1932 to 1945.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Clayton went on to work as a boxing referee after his playing days were over. In 1981, he reffed many big fights, including Ali-Foreman and Ali-Berbick.
Aside from athletics, he had an incredible career. Later in life, Clayton rose through the ranks of the Philadelphia fire department to become a lieutenant. He has also served as the chairman of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission and the director of the gang control unit in Philadelphia.
Another interesting fact about Clayton is that he was known to only drive through the City of Brotherly Love in his preferred vehicle, black Cadillacs. Money from the Foreman and Ali camps undoubtedly helped him afford his preferred mode of transportation.
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