Four years after his return to the ring in 1970, Ali traveled to Zaire(DRC) to fight Heavyweight champ George Foreman. The country’s autocratic leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, personally paid each fighter’s $5 million purse.
The fight, dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” became one of Ali’s most famous. Even before the Rumble in the Jungle, Africans around the continent hailed Ali as a hero. Citizens of the continent met him with adoration everywhere he went. The boxer visited countries all around the continent throughout his career, from Ghana to Egypt to Uganda.
It was in Uganda where Ali spent time with another tyrannical leader, Idi Amin, the country’s President (1971-77). While Ali didn’t have a problem spending time with these leaders who oppressed their own citizens, one request for Amin went too far and led Ali to run away from the situation.
On The Ryen Russillo Podcast, the host asked Ali biographer Jonathan Eig about a story he heard about the champ. He asked if Ali once turned down $500k to get in the ring with Mobutu. Eig cleared up the details of the famous story, telling Russillo it was, in fact, Amin that wanted to fight Ali, not Mobutu.
The writer then shared the story of Ali and Amin as he knows it:
While they were in Zaire, Ali – or maybe it was after the fight – Ali and some of his guys flew to Uganda to meet Idi Amin, who was possibly the only dictator who was more ruthless than Mobutu, and this time Ali actually got scared. This time he said, ‘This guy’s crazy. Let’s get the hell out of here.’ And I guess Idi Amin wanted to get in the ring with him and Ali said, ‘No way. If I beat him, I’ll be killed. If I don’t beat him, I could be killed. Let’s run,’ basically, head for the door.
Jonathan Eig on Muhammad Ali
Ali was controversial and contradictory, but he wasn’t stupid by any means. He realized that putting on the gloves with a guy nicknamed “The Butcher” was a no-win situation. Running from this fight may be the best boxing decision Muhammad Ali ever made.