There are seminal moments in history that leave an indelible mark and become signature moments in time. Through the ages the world of sports has borne witness to many of these and one of the more recent ones is chronicled in the engaging and visually stunning Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974.
Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974, chronicles The Rumble in the Jungle, the legendary boxing match between Muhammad Ali and then heavyweight champion, George Foreman. Set in Kinshasa, Zaire the Ali/Foreman fight captured the public’s imagination, set worldwide broadcast records and was later the subject of the Academy Award winning documentary, When We Were Kings.
This time around the fight gets the graphic novel treatment from Titan Comics. An interesting mix of photos by world-renowned photographer Abbas, words by Jean-David Morvan and illustrated by Raphael Ortiz, the graphic novel delves into the origins of the fight and the principals who made it happen, including Don King.
At its core Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974 is a quest for legitimacy. On one hand King is trying to solidify his name as a bigtime boxing promoter, making promises that far outpace his economic worth. The country of Zaire, under Mobutu’s leadership, looks to free itself from the shackles of colonialism to transform itself into a new republic. Foreman, despite convincing wins over fighters who defeated Ali, punched back against the notion that he wasn’t Ali’s equal as a champion or as a public darling. Lastly there’s Ali fighting internal self-doubt while trying to reclaim his spot at the top of the boxing summit.
Not to be left out of the mix, Abbas gets some of the spotlight, not only serving as the narrator and visual inspiration of the graphic novel courtesy of his photos, but also providing the throughline via recollections of his past. One of the pleasures of reading Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974 is how seamless Abbas’ photos mesh with Ortiz’ artwork. Combined with Morvan’s prose it is as though you are ringside witnessing history while viewing the spectacle from Abbas’ perspective.
There are also interesting contrasts throughout the piece. The most obvious is the Foreman/Ali dynamic but there is also the one involving the political leaders: Mobutu and De Gaulle. Mobutu envisions a new Africa, one where Zaire stands on its own merit using its African roots to power its rise. De Gaulle on the other hand sees France’s place in the world weakening and appeals to help it maintain its former glory and position of importance in an ever-changing ideological landscape.
Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974 offers a window to a time not so long ago and is a treat for boxing fans and lovers of photography. Using a new lens on a spectacle that has been chronicled many times over it delivers from start to finish and adds another layer to one of the most famous sporting events of all time.