From Zaire To The Playboy Mansion: Looking Back At Boxing’s Most Unusual Venues

Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz Isn't The First Fight To Be Held In An Unusual Location
15:31, 13 Aug 2019

The heavyweight rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr looks set to go ahead in Saudi Arabia on December 7 despite widespread criticism from boxing fans and human rights groups.

While the choice to host the bout in the Middle-East unsurprisingly raised eyebrows, it’s not the first time a fight has been hosted in a bizarre location. In fact, just two months ago Amir Khan headlined an event in Saudi Arabia, while Callum Smith and George Groves slugged it out a year prior in the World Boxing Super Series at the very same venue.

Below are more examples of boxing venues that defied the norm:

Muhammad Ali v George Foreman (Kinshasa, Zaire 1974)

Located in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’ is regarded as one of the most important fights in, not just Muhammad Ali’s career, but in the history of boxing as a whole.

The concept of pitting these two brilliant heavyweights in Africa was concocted by non-other than notorious promoter Don King. The most famous haircut in boxing managed to get both combatants to sign a contract saying they would fight for him if he could secure a $5million purse, an enormous prize-fund at the time.

Unwelcome to host the fight in America, and with no money, King was forced to seek an alternative country to stage and support the fight.

This led to Fred Wyman, American advisor to Zaire’s dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, to persuade the leader that such a high-profile event would place an immense spotlight on the nation. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi even came in as a primary financial sponsor of the event.

The truth is, you could fill this list with Ali fights; he fought Joe Frazier in the Philippines, Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas, Joe Bugner in Kuala Lumpur and Rudi Lubbers in Indonesia.

Multiple fighters (Playboy Mansion, Beverly Hills)

Boxing and bunnies have more in common than you’d initially think with multiple fighters having fought in the hallowed grounds of the Playboy Mansion.

In 2003, a young David Haye, in only his fifth career fight, fought journeyman Vance Winn at cruiserweight on the undercard of Jeff Lacy’s fight with Richard Grant.

Haye isn’t the only big name to have scrapped it out in Hugh Hefner’s gaff with former-light heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev fighting there three times at the beginning of his career in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Chris Eubank vs Luis Dionisio Barrera (Cairo, Egypt 1996)

A year after his second defeat to Steve Collins and a brief spell of ‘retirement’, Chris Eubank made the 3,485-mile journey to Cairo’s Heliopolis Sports Centre to fight Argentina’s Luis Dionisio Barrera in a fight painfully punned as the “Style by the Nile.”

Against an opponent who had lost his last four fights and a much smaller man than Eubank, the fight was unsurprisingly seen as little more than an exhibition match and Eubank had trouble selling the fight to UK broadcasters, who had little interest in the bout.

Eubank would stop his opponent inside five rounds before jet-setting to Dubai for his next fight five months later. 

Jack Johnson v Jess Willard (Havana, Cuba 1915)

When you scour boxing records from the early part of the 20th century you’re bound to come across a few quirks, especially when looking at the larger-than-life Jack Johnson, boxing’s first black heavyweight champion.

In a career that spanned 34 years, the ‘Galveston Giant’ began his career in the States before fighting in England, Australia, Argentina, France, Mexico and Cuba.

His world title fight with eventual conqueror Jess Willard took place in the Cuban capital of Havana on a scorching April afternoon and was scheduled for a whopping 45 rounds at the newly constructed Oriental Park Racetrack.

Wilson knocked out the champion in the 26th round but Johnson later claimed he lost on purpose despite recorded footage of him telling his cornerman between rounds that he’d bet $2,500 on himself to win.