George Foreman has led worldwide tributes to Muhammad Ali, who has died at the age of 74.
“Muhammad Ali made you love him,” said Foreman, who was beaten by Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.
“The man was the greatest. Forget about boxing, he was one of the greatest men to appear on television, in the media.”
Ali was admitted to hospital on Thursday suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.
The three-time world champion died at a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona. His funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
“Muhammad Ali was what I call beautiful,” Foreman told BBC Radio 5 live. “He has been something special.”
Foreman’s loss to Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire [now DR Congo] 42 years ago stands as one of the most iconic moments in any sport.
Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy tired the unbeaten Foreman in the 80 degree heat, allowing him to force a stoppage in the eighth round.
“Little did I know I would be facing something greater than a boxer,” Foreman said of the fight.
“He stood the test. He took everything I had and gave back worse. I loved the man. I wanted to beat him and knock him out but I loved the man.”
‘He stood for the world’
Don King, who promoted many of Ali’s fights, including the Rumble in the Jungle, said: “It’s a sad day for life. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die.
“Like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on. He stood for the world.”
Eight-weight world champion Manny Pacquiao described Ali as a “giant”.
“Boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity,” the Filipino said.
Floyd Mayweather, a world champion across five divisions, added: “There will never be another Muhammad Ali. The black community all around the world, black people all around the world, needed him. He was the voice for us. He’s the voice for me to be where I’m at today.”
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‘We were very lucky that he chose boxing’
Barry McGuigan, former world featherweight champion, said: “Everybody wanted to box because of him. He was just so amazing in every way. More than anything else, it was how humble and how brilliantly charismatic he was.
“He was a beautiful-looking man, a beautiful-looking individual and he had so much compassion. He was the greatest sportsman there has ever been and we were very lucky that he chose boxing.”
World cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew described Ali as “the ultimate hero”.
“It’s heartbreaking news to wake up to. The greatest sportsman of all-time in my opinion. He transcended the sport and this is a sad day,” he said.
“I hope something can be named after him. He can never be replicated.”
Tributes flow in from beyond boxing
British journalist Michael Parkinson interviewed Muhammad Ali four times and remembers him as boxing’s biggest ever star.
“He was a rockstar,” Parkinson told BBC World Service. “It was not often I was gobsmacked but as he walked across the studio floor I’d never seen a more graceful or beautiful man, he was extraordinary.
“He was a man who could fell you with a blow – kill you maybe – yet he had beautiful hands with long tapering fingers.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Muhammad Ali was not just a champion in the ring – he was a champion of civil rights, and a role model for so many people.”
Former US President Bill Clinton said Ali possessed “a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again”.
“We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences,” he added.
“Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humoured in bearing the burden of his own health challenges.”