KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: In November 2014, in Doha, Qatar, George Foreman captivated a conference audience with his recollections of boxing’s historic Rumble in the Jungle . . . and his sensitive and touching tribute to Muhammad Ali.
Back on October 29, 1974, Ali, the 32-year-old returning challenger, knocked out odds-on favourite and heavyweight champion Foreman, seven years his junior, in Kinshasa.
That was in the eighth round. For most of the previous seven Ali had deliberately soaked up everything Foreman could throw at him. By now Foreman was deep into foreign territory. He was lost, in more ways than one.
Later Foreman would spend 10 years away from the ring before financial need drove him back to become, in 1994 at 45, the oldest heavyweight champion of all time.
But the fight for which he will be remembered, lauded, hailed and applauded, ironically, is the one he lost the most sensationally and dramatically.
The reason why . . .
Foreman, rolling back the years at Doha Goals, recognised how he sowed the seeds of his own defeat. He said: “When you go into the ring you have to be scared. That’s what gives you your motivation.
“There was only one fight I went into when I wasn’t scared. No butterflies. I was the champion. I was the big favourite. This was going to be the easiest fight of my life . . . against Muhammad Ali.”
Foreman acknowledged: “I made a big mistake: I didn’t watch the films of his fights. I was over-confident. I had knocked out Joe Frazier. I had knocked out Ken Norton. I was a genuine puncher. Those others guys were good at slipping and jabbing but I was good at one thing: If I could lay my hand on you I could knock you out.
“That’s what I did. That’s how I won all my fights.
“I had never, ever had to think about looking for a [points] decision because my decision was by way of a punch. That was George Foreman for you. I went into the ring 81 times and no-one ever stood up to me to make me back up. I was always the aggressor.
“You’ve heard about [Ali’s] rope-a-dope? Well, that fight, that night, I was the dope.”
Ali and Foreman went to Kinshasa “because President Mobutu wanted to make certain his country was not seen by the rest of the world as typical Africa. It was wealthy. It had a lot to offer and the way to tell the world was with sport . . . and no sport was as big as the heavyweight championship of the world.”
End in sight
Foreman hit Ali “with everything I had and some more and he kept on talking to me: ‘Is that all you got? Is that you got?’ . . . Well, yes, that was just about all I’d got. By the end of the fourth round I was punched out.
“In round six I gave just about everything I had left and when we got to the end of round he was still standing and he said: ‘I did it!’ And I said: ‘Yes, you did it.’ I’ll never forget that moment . . . and then he went on to put me down.
“He had taken a lot of punishment but he was accustomed to taking a lot of punishment. He beat me and he beat me fair and square.”
Two years later Foreman retired, for the first time; Ali went on too long before calling it quits in 1981.
“In the 10 years I was out of boxing,” mused Foreman, “we became very close, good friends. He’s the brother I always wanted. He was a real fun guy. Probably the most fun guy I’ve ever met.”