The museum and cultural center that bears Ali’s name announced plans Tuesday for a Sept. 20 benefit concert featuring Grammy-winning singer Bruno Mars in Louisville — the boxing great’s hometown.
The concert will air via satellite in Congo as part of a weeklong music, sporting, economic and cultural festival in the African country called CONGO14.
A concert in the country’s capital of Kinshasa will take place in the same stadium where Ali defeated George Foreman, completing Ali’s quest to reclaim the heavyweight boxing title stripped from him years earlier for refusing to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War.
“Forty years later, even though I now have a quieter rumble, I still have great passion for what the fight and its build-up meant to the world,” the 72-year-old Ali, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, said in a news release Tuesday.
The event wasn’t billed as a fundraiser for the impoverished African country, but the Ali Center said any surplus funds would be used in the Congo for youth education, leadership and empowerment initiatives. Steering young women toward education, sports and cultural activities will be a main cause.
“This event is the kickoff of the Muhammad Ali Center starting to make an impact on a global basis, specifically in Africa,” Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Ali Center, said Tuesday.
The Louisville concert also will raise money to help support the Ali Center’s operations.
Faida Mitifu, the African country’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement that he is fully supporting the CONGO14 Festival. He said the event will “impart Muhammad Ali’s legacy of solidarity and conviction to a new generation.”
It also offers a chance to show progress in establishing peace and improving the country’s economic outlook, he said.
Parts of the sprawling African country have been undermined by violence. Eastern Congo is home to a myriad of armed groups and militias, many vying for control of the region’s vast mineral resources.
The country, then known as Zaire, received worldwide attention 40 years ago for the famous fight and the publicity leading up to the bout.
Ali had the stadium’s fans in his corner for the fight against the heavily favored Foreman. Ali used a “rope a dope” defensive tactic that blunted most of Foreman’s powerful punches. He knocked out a fatigued Foreman just before the eighth round ended.
The fight carried considerable cultural clout as well, producing the acclaimed documentary “When We Were Kings.”
Ali’s humanitarian efforts took center stage after the three-time heavyweight champion left the boxing ring. Now he’s trying to reach a new generation of African youth. The events will promote Ali’s message of six core principles — confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality.
Ali said he hopes CONGO14 will support growth and harmony in the African country and beyond, and will lead others to see the Congo “through a clearer and more positive lens.”