The Truth About Muhammad Ali And George Foreman's Relationship

On October 29 1974, George Foreman had boxing's world heavyweight title, a perfect win-loss record, and hair on his head. On October 30, Foreman lost two of those things, and, shockingly, neither of them was his hair. Up to that point, boxers had tried to best him 40 times, only to learn the hard way that getting into a punching contest with a tank isn't the best idea. But as Foreman would learn the hard way, opponent number 41 was one of the greatest of all time competing in one of the greatest fights of all time: the Rumble in the Jungle.

It would be easy to imagine George Foreman despising Muhammad Ali after that amazing bout. The poetically cocky Ali eloquently plucked his opponent's nerves like they were defenseless chickens. Another famous foe, Joe Frazier, hated Ali because of it, according to ESPN, and even remarked that he wished Ali had fallen into the fire when he lit the Olympic flame in 1996. And prior to the Rumble in the Jungle Ali taunted Foreman mercilessly, per History. Even the fans chanted, "Ali, bomaye" ("Ali, kill him"). Ali didn't kill him. As Foreman put it, "I was mugged in the jungle." That mugging marked the end of Foreman's undefeated streak and start of an unbeatable friendship.

From foes to friends

If boxing worked like math, Muhammad Ali would have come out on the losing end of the equation. Per NPR, Foreman explained had beaten Ali's bitter rival, Joe Frazier, and Frazier had beaten Ali. Foreman had also defeated Ken Norton, who defeated Ali. By the transitive property of beatings, Foreman should have clobbered Ali and retained his championship. But Foreman made a grave miscalculation: he underestimated Ali

"I figured I'd knock him out in three rounds," Foreman admitted. But when Ali had a winning strategy: the rope-a-dope. Decades later Foreman would say, "It was the performance of a lifetime ... I wish I had been able to tell him that right after it happened." The former world champion wasn't the only person who was stunned that night. Foreman told ABC that years later he received a phone call from Ali: "I do not know how he got my number. He called and complimented me for about 20 minutes."

Ali had so much respect for Foreman as a knockout artist that he asked him to make Ken Norton his next masterpiece. "I can't beat him. George, you can. He's afraid of you," Ali reportedly said. With that, he and Foreman became "the best of friends." Their children became friends as well. When asked why he befriended the person responsible for what Foreman called "the most embarrassing moment" of his life," Foreman replied, "If you beat me up like he did, I'd be your friend too."