LOUISVILLE: They were young then and, oh, so proud. Three magnificent gladiators on a collision course with history, they fought fearlessly, battling each other on the biggest stages and in the oddest places.
Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The names roll off the tongue like they were made to be together.
They’ve been linked together now for nearly a half century, united by the special bond created when two men step into the ring. Enemies, rivals and sometimes friends, they fought in a golden era for heavyweights.
When Foreman woke up Saturday, it was with the unsettling knowledge that he was the only one left. “We were like one guy,” Foreman said. “But this morning I realised that the greatest piece of us all was Muhammad Ali.”
On their title fight in Zaire, he said: “I heard rumours Muhammad Ali was out of money and having a rough time.”
“If I took the fight with him he could make $5 million. I said that’s good, I’ll give him a chance to make a few bucks and kill him.”
Foreman could afford to be charitable. He had knocked Frazier down six times in two rounds the year before, and stopped Ali’s nemesis, Ken Norton, in the second round of his last fight.
Big and strong, he had never lost as a pro and was the most fearsome slugger around. “I thought I could beat anybody,” he said from his Houston home.
Ali had other plans in the early morning heat in Kinshasa, Zaire. He took Foreman’s biggest punches early, taunting him all the way.
“Is that all you got George?” Ali said after each punch landed.
“I knew I was in trouble,” Foreman recalled. “I knew this was something different.”