George Foreman and Muhammad Ali were enemies inside the ring, but away from the lights, they were close companions – especially after Foreman walked away from boxing and became a preacher.
"Our friendship grew after I found religion, because I didn't hate him anymore," Foreman told Christian Headlines. "I didn't want to beat him anymore."
Foreman's life story is the focus of the upcoming faith-based movie Big George Foreman (PG-13), which opens in theaters Friday and follows his rise from poverty to become a two-time heavyweight champion. Foreman famously won the heavyweight belt at age 24 and then again at age 45.
Between those two championships, he embraced Christianity and walked away from boxing to become a pastor and lead a youth ministry. His spiritual reformation in 1977 took place three years after he lost the title to Ali in the so-called "Rumble in the Jungle."
"We became the greatest of friends," Foreman said.
He even witnessed to Ali.
"All the time I would approach him about, 'Man, I found God, I found Jesus, you gotta try this.' Finally, he told me once, 'Enough, George. Enough, let me alone.' And of course, 'If God wants me to know I'll,' blah, blah, blah. But … I loved him."
They talked regularly on the phone.
"And we talked sometime – not about religion – but just talked. And then [with] the advent of FaceTime, we [could] look on a telephone, and see one another. And that was thrilling for me."
The rivalry and friendship between Foreman and Ali are part of the plot in Big George Foreman, which depicts Foreman as hating Ali during his younger years but then learning to be a friend. A rematch between the two would have brought in millions of dollars for each man. That rematch never took place.
"For a long time, he thought it was a joke like everyone else," Foreman said of his conversion to Christianity. "He tried to convince me to come back into boxing as a matter of fact, to beat the guys that have given him trouble. I said, 'No, man, I'm done.'... He still called me weekly, and we just talked. And then he started telling me Bible stories, really, but trying to convince me to come back into boxing. Mohammed Ali and I became great friends."
As Christian Headlines previously reported, Foreman says he experienced a near-death experience in his dressing room after losing a boxing match in 1977.
"I was gone out of this life. Above me, under me, all around me was nothing," Foreman said. "The most sad thoughts that you can even come to mind – multiply it. I was in a dump yard of nothing and sorrowfulness. … I remember thinking there was no hope for me – like someone had dropped me out in a sea. There was no land."
Suddenly, "a hand reached in and pulled me out of nothing and death."
After that moment, Foreman surrendered his career to Christ.
Big George Foreman stars Khris Davis (Space Jam: A New Legacy) as Foreman, Sullivan Jones (The Gilded Age) as Ali and Forest Whitaker (Black Panther, The Last King of Scotland) as Foreman's trainer, Doc Broadus.
Photo courtesy: ©Sony, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.