Is a champion really a winner? - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Is a champion really a winner?

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Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2003 11:50 pm | Updated: 12:58 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Who won the Rumble in the Jungle?

Now before you answer stop to think about the lives of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Once an outcast and seen by some as being anti-American for converting to Islam and taking a Muslim name, Ali in retirement from boxing has become an American icon.

For Baby Boomers, who are now running the country, he has become a prime symbol of a principled man who was on the right side of the Vietnam issue.

That side of Ali now overshadows the bombastic, sometimes cruel Ali, who for the sake of promotion often gave derogatory nicknames to future conquests.

It was all part of a 1960s and early '70s show that seemingly was a weekly affair, hosted on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" by sidekick and sometimes straight man Howard Cosell.

Not only tall, graceful, innovative and handsome, Ali used his brain to whip the powerful Foreman in their epic battle that was recently made into an award-winning documentary.

While Ali mocked and teased, his popularity growing, Foreman chose the Sonny Liston aura and stare as a pro.

Foreman was a far cry from the Olympic champion, who at the '68 Mexico City games when Tommy Smith and John Carlos protested racism in America by bowing their heads and raising a black-gloved fist during the award ceremonies for the 200-meter dash.

When Foreman won the heavyweight title prior to the Rumble in the Jungle, he grabbed a small American flag and bowed in four directions inside the ring.

Naturally, what followed was him being labeled an "Uncle Tom" of that tumultuous era.

While Ali continued to fight on, against the wishes of some of his earliest handlers such as trainer Angelo Dundee, Foreman took his Mr. Mean act into seclusion after the '74 fight.

But 20 years after losing his crown, a reinvented Foreman emerges to claim a piece of the heavyweight title.

He has shaved his head. He has that life's-good smile all the time. He's lovable. He has even got a goofy gimmick, naming all his sons George.

Suddenly people are cheering for this overweight 40-something who's beating up younger men.

Meanwhile, Ali has broken the hearts of many of us for lying.

He promised he wouldn't end up broken down and broke like Joe Louis.

Ali's not broke, but he is broken down.

He stayed far too long in the sport.

His Parkinson's disease has made him a sympathetic figure, more acceptable to those who couldn't stand him in his prime.

The blunt truth is, part of his popularity is because he's now harmless. He's not running around with Al Sharpton or anything.

So the honors come from everywhere.

He is, in essence, a breathing statue.

Foreman?

Few revere him.

But he's cashing a whole lot of fat paychecks.

The George Foreman line of cooking products (don't you have one?) is the hottest appliance in the 21st century.

The one-time standoffish warrior has reinvented himself into a great American capitalist.

He has lived a pretty doggone good life and will die a filthy rich man.

In the meantime, we'll have to watch an icon deteriorate in front of our eyes. Billy Crystal's Ali routine won't ease the pain.

What is it that they say about your health being your most precious commodity?

Once again, I'll ask.

Who won the Rumble in the Jungle?

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