Houston native George Foreman recalls Muhammad Ali as fighter, friend

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Once enemies in the ring, Houston-native George Foreman reflects on his friendship with Muhammad Ali after the champ's passing. (KTRK)

It was called the fight of the century, known to fans as the "Rumble in the Jungle."

A 32-year-old Muhammed Ali pitted against a younger, heavier George Foreman in the African nation then known as Zaire. Foreman thought it would be quick but it was this fight that would change it all for the two heavyweight champions.

"He whispered 'Is that all you've got George? Show me something,'" recalled Foreman of the 1974 match-up with Ali. "Boy, I got nervous then -- five, six rounds and I think about the seventh round I got him again and I realized this was not your everyday kind of guy.

"I had jumped in the ring with more than just a boxer, a fighter. This guy's presence was more than I had expected -- haven't had anything before or anything since then," Foreman said.

Foreman says it took years for him to get over the loss.

"I loved Muhammed Ali, even before we fought, he was always thought of as a hero," said Foreman.

The Houston-native remembered watching Ali fight on television, preparing for his own square-off with him in the ring.

"I didn't intend to hurt him, I didn't hate him or anything. I just wanted to knock him out and win money," said Foreman. "After I lost that fight, hate did seep in, a little bit of hate and it stayed there fore a while."

Eventually, Ali and Foreman would go from bitter enemies to better friends.

"You look across the ring and say that little pretty boy can't beat me, so you go out there and waste yourself but he was probably one of the greatest men I've ever met in my life," Foreman said.

As friends, Foreman stoodby Ali as his health deteriorated. Foreman recalled an event he attended with Ali and fellow heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Years into his diagnosis with Parkinson's disease, Ali had emerged from his hotel room disheveled, his tuxedo a mess and not ready for the event.

"I fixed his collar, put his tie on and did his cuff links and I said, 'Now you looking pretty.'" Foreman thought back to the day he helped to straighten Ali out.

"He said to me 'George, I never did think it would come to this,' and I said, 'Man, you are beautiful, you are pretty, I've got to make sure everybody see you like that'," Foreman said.

Even as Ali's health continued to decline, Foreman says it was his former-foe-turned-friend's fighting heart that kept him going, no matter all of life's wins and losses.

"Heroes always lose something and there's nothing wrong with that," Foreman said, referring to Ali's personal health losses. "I saw this when he raised that Olympic torch, his hand moving and everything and I thought that boy actually makes Parkinson's look pretty."

Foreman was referencing his then weakened-but-not-defeated friend at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games.

"Anything he did, I'm sorry to say, he made it look pretty," Foreman said.

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