Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Muhammad Ali fought 61 times as a professional between 1960 and 1981. Here, a few of his opponents talk about their fights and what Ali means to them.
George Foreman, 63, is an Olympic boxing gold medalist who held the world heavyweight title in 1973-74 and in 1987 ended a 10-year retirement to again hold the belt from 1994-1997. He lost to Muhammad Ali by an eighth-round knockout in 1974 in Zaire. It was the only knockout loss of Foreman’s career:
“After 10 boxing matches, I believed I couldn’t be beaten. After my arrival in Zaire, I saw small pieces of armor fall from me. I got cut in training camp and my cook got sick, leaving me to do the cooking. I had peaked too early (in preparation for the fight), and Ali peaked on fight night.
“I believe I would have been champ for 15 years had I avoided Ali. But my fame and a lot of my success out of the ring came because of my association with the ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’ Though I lost, it has served as a victory for me in life. I became ‘The comeback kid.’
“For me, Ali’s lasting legacy will be his contribution as one of the greatest men to ever visit our planet. He inspired athletes and actors. He taught politicians, even world leaders. He showed all of us that integrity doesn’t come with belts, wars aren’t won with just weapons and that love starts with what is seen in your own mirror.”
George Chuvalo, 74, a durable Canadian heavyweight champion, fought nearly every top heavyweight of his era and lost only two of his 93 bouts by knockout. He lost a 15-round fight to Muhammad Ali by decision in 1966 in Toronto and a 12-round fight by decision in their rematch in 1972 in Vancouver:
“Ali was set to fight Ernie Terrell, who pulled out 17 days before the fight, and the promoter called me. I was in good shape, but I would have liked to have had a little more time to train for that important fight. It was a much tougher fight for me because I did not have enough time to prepare for him. Ali was the quickest fighter I ever saw — the speed of his punches was second to none.
“Today, when I walk down any street in Canada, fathers tell their sons, ‘That is George Chuvalo, a man who fought Muhammad Ali twice.’ Our first fight was called the biggest fight ever in Canada. There is no question that having fought Ali made me a big deal, at least here.
“When I fought Ali the first time, he was a social pariah because he had refused to fight in the Vietnam War. But in time, he became vindicated for his stand against the war. Today, he is one of the most beloved people on earth. Watching him light the flame at the Olympic Games in Atlanta really inspired me. He has won over a lot of people.”
Earnie Shavers, 67, is regarded as one of the hardest-hitting punchers in boxing history. He had a pro career that lasted more than a quarter of a century and fought many ranked contenders of his time. He lost a 15-round fight to Muhammad Ali by decision in 1977 at Madison Square Garden:
“I had mixed emotions about our fight. Ali was a longtime friend who, for previous fights, had invited me to train at his camp at Deer Lake, Pa. Sure, I wanted to win, but I didn’t want to hurt him. Still, I hit him with my best shots during the fight, but Ali could really take a punch.
“My greatest fame came from having fought Ali. I would tell my children before they went to bed that they should drop to their knees and thank God for Muhammad Ali because without him we would not be living so well.
“Muhammad Ali’s impact has been felt all over the world. He opened many doors. He changed life for so many of us.”