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"Man, it makes you want to cry. Did you see that house? It was dead, like a trophy case. Did you see the way his hands were shaking? Did you see his eyes?" He gazed down at his hands. "I wish I'd never hit him. How would you feel, knowing you'd contributed to that?
"To be honest, when I'm around him, I feel like he's my child. I love him, but I wanna spank him and say, 'Straighten up, let's go home now.' I know he's thinking about suicide now—I could hear a man dying inside him. Thank God, thank God I didn't win that fight...."
The fight still dances across the memory in bare feet, to the beat of drums. In the belly of Africa, under a pale pre-dawn moon, 60,000 shadows rose and sent up a roar into the chaos of darkness. There in the ring, on Oct. 30, 1974, stood the glowering, powerful, 25-year-old Foreman, the heavyweight champion who'd dribbled Joe Frazier's head six times upon the canvas and bludgeoned Ken Norton senseless in less than two rounds—both of them men who had already beaten Ali. Before the Ali fight, unbeknownst to all. Foreman claimed he had handed his trainer, Dick Sadler, $25,000 to give to referee Zack Clayton—not to bribe him, but to make sure he pulled Foreman away from Ali so Foreman wouldn't hit Ali when he was down and be disqualified. Foreman was the 1968 Olympic heavyweight champion, undefeated as a pro, winner of 25 of his 40 fights within two rounds. "My opponents didn't worry about losing to me," he said. "They worried about getting hurt."
And in the other corner stood Ali, at 32 a danced-out and fading ex-champ needing to stiffen every sinew, conjure up every wile to do the undoable.
The crowd was Ali's. It sat, thunderstruck, as Foreman plodded out at the bell and hammered Ali with rights and lefts as Ali laid his back against the ropes, buried his face in his gloves and accepted the barrage. Years later Foreman would remember hitting Ali with a savage right, and looking beyond him into the crowd to see one of his own friends booing and screaming at George to stop.
"What you doin'?" Ali's cornermen—and most of the watching world—cried to their fighter between rounds. "You gotta dance!"
And then, slowly, Ali's plan revealed itself. Near the end of each round, with a wicked smile, he would come out of his shell and play a quick riff on Foreman's head. By the sixth, Foreman's own flailing had sapped him. By the eighth, he lay on the canvas, beaten, blinking up at the compassionless stars.
A decade later Foreman still believes his downfall was prearranged. He remembers the water Sadler gave him to drink before the fight tasting strange, and of feeling drained from the beginning. He remembers Sadler and Archie Moore, his adviser, beating on his legs between rounds, and urging him to keep whaling at Ali instead of conserving his energy. He remembers being told by Sadler to stay on the floor when he went down, and trusting his trainer to tell him to get up just before the count reached 10.
"I didn't know what to do when I got tired," Foreman wrote in his diary right after the fight. " Ali had his tricks working like magic. I'll go on as though nothing happen. I be alright when the swelling goes down. I prayed and asked God to guide me [before the fight]. Now I don't know for sure how to pray."