When George Foreman fought Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974, he thought it would be a cake-walk. Foreman was 40-0 and had knocked out almost every opponent he had faced within two or three rounds, including Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, each of whom had beaten Ali.
When the fight began, though, it didn’t take long for Foreman, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time heavyweight champion, to realize this experience would be much different than he envisioned.
“After four rounds pounding on this guy, I realized he wasn’t going anywhere,” Foreman said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I tried to finish him off in the third round, and the bell (rung) and he looked at me and said, ‘I made it.’ Boy, things got rough then. That was the toughest man I’ve ever been in the ring with.”
Now known as The-Rope-a-Dope, Ali let Foreman wear himself out. Then he knocked him out in the eighth. Foreman, 67, called it the “most devastating thing” that ever happened to him.
“I had a lot of hatred for him,” Foreman said. “I wanted a rematch. He never did give me a rematch.”
Ali did, however, give Foreman a call in the late-1970s. According to Foreman, Ali called to see if he would fight Norton because the sport was clamoring for an Ali/Norton rematch, and if Ali didn’t fight Norton, Ali would be stripped of his title.
There was just one problem: Ali, Foreman said, doubted whether he couldn’t beat Norton.
“He called me at my home,” Foreman recalled. “I never knew how he got my number and he started complimenting me for 10 or 15 minutes. I knew something was up then. He said, ‘Please come back and beat Ken Norton for me.’ He said, ‘You can beat him. He’s afraid of you. I can’t beat him. They’re going to take my title, George. Don’t let them take my title.’ He pleaded with me. From that day on, we became the most loving friends. I couldn’t come back (to fight Norton) because I was done with boxing for 10 years, but I realized how much I loved Muhammad Ali. I miss him. Even the thought of him going leaves me heartbroken.”
Ali passed away last Friday at the age of 74.
“His presence was his strength,” Foreman said. “Not his left jab, right hand. When you were in the ring with Muhammad, I felt the presence of something tougher and stronger than I ever expected in a boxer. . . . There couldn’t have been anyone more deserving of all the honors that he received. The first time I met him, it was like he’d always known me. ‘Watch this, George. Come see this, George.’ He was a gift. He was calling himself beautiful and pretty – and he was all that. I was in the ring with all of that. And even today, even though I lost, I would gladly show everybody that film of me being knocked out, falling on the floor, him raising his hand – I’m so happy I was a part of all that.”