Foreman tells a tale, but it's a tale of the past
By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist
May 23, 2007
Muhammad Ali was at his bombastic best, just days before he was supposed to have his head handed to him in the Rumble in the Jungle.
Listen to what he said 33 years later, and the words still sparkle to those who remember a magical time, if not such a magical place.
"I rassled with a gator! Tussled with a whale!" Ali said. "I murdered a rock! Injured a brick! I'm so mean, I make medicine sick!"
Apparently medicine made George Foreman sick, too.
At least that's the tale Foreman tells in his new book, which he is busily promoting this week as only he can do. This is, after all, someone who resurrected a career with a smile and fat jokes and sold more than 100 million grills with his name on them.
And what better way to sell a book than bring one of the most famous names and one of the most famous fights into it. Makes the whole religion angle a bit easier to promote.
The problem is, it's not a new story. Foreman said similar things about a strange bottle of water just after the fight, and repeated them a few years later.
And while Foreman says he's bringing it up again as a cautionary tale of hate and forgiveness, it smacks of sour grapes, directed at a man who helped him become heavyweight champion and is no longer around to defend himself.
"Forgiveness is there, but the story must be told," Foreman said Tuesday between book signings. "There's more to it than meets the eye. I was mad later on. I could have been dead over there."
In the book "God in My Corner," Foreman says that just before the fight, his manager handed him a bottle of water that had a medicinal taste to it. He became tired, he said, part of the reason Ali stopped him in the eighth round in a huge upset.
I don't doubt Foreman believes something was wrong with his water, but you have to wonder why he's rehashing the story after so many years. If Foreman truly believes in forgiveness -- and no one questions his evangelical credentials after 30 years in the pulpit -- it seems odd that he wants to dredge it up again.
But he is, and he repeated the story of the water Dick Sadler gave him just before the fateful fight in the early morning hours in Zaire.
"We got the ceremonial water like we had in all our fights but it tasted like medicine to me," Foreman said. "He looked me in the eye and said `Same water as always.' I took another sip and it still tasted bad. He just looked at me and said `Same water as always.' "
Boxer and manager split after the fight and Sadler died a few years ago, so his side of the story will never be told. Foreman doesn't say why his own manager would want to slip him a mickey.
Others said Foreman blamed Sadler for not getting him out of Zaire when he was cut in training, though President Mobutu was the one who made sure of that. There was too much money invested in the fight, and the people wanted to see Ali win.
"You've got to remember in those days he suspected everything," said Bill Caplan, who was Foreman's publicist at the time and remains a close friend. "He thought the bitter tasting water was something someone had slipped in there. Years later he abandoned that, and I"m a little bit surprised he brought it back."
If anything, Foreman has taken pains to praise Ali and says the loss ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him.
He found God after a near death experience in a 1977 fight with Jimmy Young and left boxing to become a minister, only to return to become the oldest heavyweight champion ever and America's favorite pitchman.
"I lost and I'm happy about it," Foreman said. "Ali didn't need any medicine in the water to whip me. If I would have fought him 20 times with organic water he would have beaten me. He had the style to beat me."
Foreman was in trouble long before he entered the ring in Zaire. Ali was so popular among the locals that there was fear for Foreman's safety, and Foreman hadn't gone beyond the second round in his last eight fights.
Ali's business manager at the time, Gene Kilroy, said he and Ali watched tapes of Foreman before leaving for Africa and Ali saw him hanging on the top rope after knocking down Joe Frazier for the sixth time in the second round.
The rope-a-dope had yet to be invented, but something clicked in Ali's mind.
"Ali said, `I got him, he's got no stamina,"' said Kilroy, now an executive with the Luxor hotel-casino in Las Vegas. "He said, `Wait until he hears round four, round five, round six. George, you're out of gas and there are no gas stations out there."
Ali turned out to be prophetic, but not before Foreman had some moments of his own. If he was drugged, he looked pretty good early as he threw punch after punch at Ali. But he was punching himself out, and Ali turned the fight around late in the fifth round.
By the eighth round, Foreman's punches were meaningless and Ali used a flurry to knock him down and end the fight.
Foreman was banged up and bitter, and increasingly suspicious.
"I left Africa sore, went to Paris, went to Hawaii and then finally a man who looked after me said, `Now you look a little better,' " Foreman said. "Nobody believed me. Everyone laughed at me."
They weren't laughing when Foreman came back to become champion again. He hopes they're not laughing now.
"If you think I need to sell books you're wrong. I need to tell my story," Foreman said. "The story is trust in God and forgive your enemies."
An even better story might be to forgive and forget.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org