The Rumble in the Jungle, the fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, which took place in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 (originally scheduled for September 25) is now looked upon as one of the great fights of the Twentieth Century. And Norman Mailer’s book, The Fight is a fly on the wall look at that epic battle.
The hardest thing to adapt to at the start of The Fight, is Mailer’s technique of referring to himself in the third person, as if he were somebody else following Mailer around. But once you get past that conceit, there is a fascinating tale to be heard.
But there is a reason for the ‘third person’ conceit. Before this book, Mailer had been criticized for injecting himself into the articles and reports he had written. A good journalist is supposed to be a distant observer and simply report the facts. But Mailer would become a part of the event he was reporting on, and in his way, he was altering and influencing the course of events… and as such, could never be truly detached and impartial.
Of course, The Fight is no different. Mailer is very much a part of the story — not only reporting on the fight, but at one point, even training with Ali — they go for a jog at 4:00 am. But to me, that only adds to the authenticity of the tale. It may not be ‘on the spot’ reporting, but as a document of a larger than life, life event, it is first rate — totally in keeping with the epic proportions of the fight itself.
If you are familiar with the film, When We Were Kings, you will be familiar with most of this tale. However, Kings, from the very start, is shown from predominantly the point of view of Ali’s camp. And as such, Ali is (for want of a better term) the hero, and when he wins the fight it is a powerful cinematic moment. Mailer’s book isn’t so one eyed, or black and white. I think it is fair to say that Mailer was pro Ali, but not to the point where his story paints George Foreman as a villain.
The other eye opener that Mailer presents in The Fight, is his description of President Mobutu’s Zaire. It is clearly a land of have, and have nots – and the press were clearly discouraged from venturing into the world of the ‘have-nots’.
The Fight tells an excellent tale about two extraordinary men, fighting it out for the greatest sporting title in the world, the like of which we will never see again. If your a fight fan, it is a core piece of literature — a must read. Thankfully it is still in print — and easy to obtain.
May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.