LOS ANGELES (AFP) - George Foreman no longer wonders why a devastating defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ali in the fabled Rumble in the Jungle of 1974 proved the catalyst for an enduring friendship.
"Everybody falls in love with him, you can't help it," Foreman told CNN a day after the three-time heavyweight world champion Ali died in Arizona after battling Parkinson's disease for decades.
Foreman and Ali are forever linked by that clash in Kinshasa, where Ali knocked out the previously unbeaten Foreman in the eighth round to regain the crown he hadn't held since being banned from boxing in 1967 for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.
Amid the tributes pouring in for Ali's principled stand, Foreman noted that 40 years ago, Ali's stance had made him a pariah.
"Everybody turned on him," Foreman said. "I was doing an interview in Miami, Florida. He came into the gym and they turned the cameras off."
The Supreme Court's reversal of Ali's draft evasion conviction gave him a second chance "and he was the greatest show in the world," Foreman said.
And Foreman was a key player in the drama.
"I got hit and knocked out, so I can hardly remember anything," Foreman said, although he did recall that he went into the bout blithely confident of victory.
"I had beaten Joe Frazier pretty easily, Ken Norton, all the people who had beaten Muhammad Ali, so I thought this would be the easiest US$5 million I was going to pick up," Foreman said.
After pummeling Ali for three rounds, Foreman said, he was sure he was on his way to a knockout.
"I hit him hard in the third round and he looked at me as if to say 'I'm not going to take this!'" Foreman said.
Once Ali got through the round, Foreman added "I knew I was in trouble then and the water had just gotten deep."
By the sixth round, Foreman said, Ali was taunting him.
"He started whispering 'Is that all you got, George?' and believe me, it was scary because that was all I had.
"He hit me with a quick one-two, knocked me down to the canvas and my whole life changed.
"I was devastated," Foreman said. "Little did I know I would make the best friend I ever had in my life."