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Boxing’s elder statesman

Who really won the epic fight that took place in October of 1974 – Muhammad Ali or George Foreman? Of course we KNOW who won the actual fight: Ali, with style and nerve, proved to be too much for a speedily depleted Foreman, who ran out of gas after just five rounds and was taken out soon after.

But the question has been asked – which fighter, which man, had the better life; who would you rather have been – Ali or Foreman? Go back to 1974, and of course you would say Ali; the man who seemingly had it all: global fame and adulation, the full (or near full) retention of his skills, a massive platform upon which to preach his message and show off his enlightenment, and on top of it all he was the heavyweight king of kings.


Foreman at this same time was perceived as an empty headed bully who had nothing to say, no ability to think and, worse still, no way back to doing the only thing he could once do: beat up, with chilling efficiency, any and all rival fighting men who dared challenge him. Ali, with that KO in the African jungle, had taken everything from Foreman. Of course you’d rather be Ali than Foreman; back then anyway.

But fast forward to 1984, certainly 1994, and which great had the better life, the more desirable life – the idolised existence? Certainly not Ali, who was in 1984 battling with Parkinsons, reported financial troubles and the very real problem of staying awake on live television. How could it have ended up like this for The Greatest, the born winner – the man who put God first and was adequately blessed for knowing the right way?

Foreman may have been a near-broke street corner preacher in ’84, but the overweight ex-champ was a jolly giant, a man who was at peace with himself and was fully fit, both mentally and (aside from carrying quite a few excess pounds in weight) physically. Go forward even further, to ’94, and Ali’s plight was even worse; his health having absolutely no chance of returning, his ability to function at even the most basic level questioned.

Foreman? He was on top of the world again. At age 45 he had made history as the oldest heavyweight champion and it was he who was the king of the talk shows (the way Ali had once been), it was George who was carrying the briefcase, wearing the natty suit and expressing his beliefs and ideals. In short, Foreman was (and is) the elder statesman of boxing (another question perhaps worth asking is, which of these two men was better guided by the God they served?) Foreman had, without raising a fist, taken all that was once Ali’s, as well as accepting a good deal of what should have been Ali’s.

Ask yourself again: who would you rather have been – Ali or Foreman? Who really walked away from Zaire as the ultimate winner?

To this layman’s way of thinking, a prize fighter has three things with which he must leave upon his exit from boxing, the most unforgiving of all sports: number-one is the fighter’s heath, number-two, his money (having done so much sweating, bleeding and risking his very life to earn this money) and number-three, his reputation – being embraced by the people who follow this strangely addictive sport.

The list of great fighter’s to have managed all three is pretty short. Take Mike Tyson for instance – he is today left with his health, yet no way near the money he should have; and as for his reputation, well, Mike’s current rep is not one the cerebral Cus D’Amato would have been at peace with. Joe Louis left boxing with just one of the so-called three essentials. Thomas Hearns left with just one also. Julio Cesar Chavez managed two. Evander Holyfield made it out wih two – and so on and so on (time will tell if Floyd Mayweather managed to leave with all three).

As for Ali and Foreman; Ali made it out with two, Foreman with all three. And that makes answering the question, which of these two heavyweight giants you would rather have been – one of whom is still with us, the other having passed two years ago – that much easier.