About four months ago, when Muhammad Ali was sitting in his favorite armchair where he watches old Westerns and film clips of himself, his daughter Hana handed him the phone.
It was George Foreman.
"His eyes were big," Hana Ali recalled of her father. "And he was just happy and excited and talking about his kids.
"They had the cutest conversation."
That they had any conversation would have been unthinkable 40 years ago. It was Oct. 30, 1974, when Ali knocked out Foreman in the eighth round in Zaire — now the Democratic Republic of the Congo — in one of the biggest sporting events ever, "The Rumble in the Jungle."
Interviews with people involved in the fight and close to Ali reveal fresh perspective and little-told facts, such as Ali's secret marriage a week before he stepped into the ring and how Ali and Foreman went from hating each other to being the closest of friends.
FROM SLAVE SHIP TO THE RUMBLE
"We first were going to call it 'From Slave Ship to Championship,'" said Lloyd Price, who worked with promoter Don King on the event. "I thought that would have been a tremendous idea because of the event itself and what the intent of it was, to take a lot of African-Americans back to Africa who had never been there."
Price was in charge of a pre-fight concert featuring the likes of James Brown, B.B. King, The Spinners and a host of other black music stars headed back to their ancestral roots. But Hank Schwartz, a partner in the company that owned the promotional rights and was televising the fight, nixed the title.
"Hank thought that we would not get a world audience by saying 'From Slave Ship to Championship,'" Price said.
So where did "The Rumble in the Jungle" come from? Price traces it back to Drew "Bundini" Brown, one of Ali's assistant trainers and a cornerman who Price remembers saying, "Rumble, baby, rumble!"
"And then," Price recalled, "Ali just said, 'Rumble in the Jungle.' "
GALLERY: THE RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
BRANDING FOREMAN A BELGIAN
Ali famously called Foreman "a Belgian" in Zaire, branding him the enemy in a country ruled by Belgium from 1908 to 1960. His longtime business manager, Gene Kilroy, said he was involved in the scheme.
"We're getting off the airplane," Kilroy recalled, "and Ali said to me, 'Who don't they like here?' I said, 'I guess they don't like white people.'
"He said, 'I can't tell him Foreman's a white man. Who else?' I said, 'The Belgians.'"
With the press corps and thousands of Africans waiting on the tarmac, according to Kilroy, Ali held his fingers by his lips to quiet the chants of "Ali, Ali!"
Then, Ali told the crowd: "George Foreman's a Belgium (sic)."
Said Kilroy: "And they yelled, 'Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye!' I said to our interpreter, 'What is this?' He said, 'That means, 'Ali, kill him. Ali, kill him.' Because they didn't like the Belgians."
Foreman said the bigger issue was his German shepherd, Dago, which was the breed Belgium security forces used to police indigenous Africans.
"They said people feared the dog," Foreman said. "And I said, 'My goodness, they've got hyenas and lions over there, and they're afraid of a German shepherd?' It doesn't make sense."
Foreman also said that when crowds followed him he heard a different chant: "Foreman, kill him! Foreman kill him!"
SECRET MARRIAGE CEREMONY
Although Ali was married to his second wife at the time, he married Veronica Porche in a private religious ceremony at Ali's villa in Zaire a week before the fight, according to Porche.
"It was quiet, nobody was there," said Porche, who was 18 at the time. "Something inside me made it OK because I loved him. That's how I felt."
Porche said the man who married them was African and she assumed he was Muslim based on what Ali asked her before the ceremony.
"He said, 'Do you submit to the will of God?'" Porche recalled. "I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'OK, well then you're a Muslim.' He wanted to have this little Muslim (marriage) ceremony."
One of four "poster girls" helping to promote the fight, Porche said she first met Ali at a charity event in Salt Lake City. But they didn't grow acquainted until meeting again in Zaire, according to Porche, who said she knew Ali was married.
"He told me he was getting divorced," Porche said, adding that Ali's brother confirmed the marital problems and noting that Ali's wife, Khaliliah Camacho-Ali, was staying at a hotel while Ali was living at the training camp. "So it seemed to match up."
Camacho-Ali said Ali told her about the affair with Porche but not the marriage.
"I was always aware of what was happening," said Camacho-Ali, who divorced Ali in 1977. "Ali told me everything."
Porche's marriage to Ali became legal in the United States when they wed in Los Angeles in 1977. Nine years later, she divorced him after tiring of behavior that, from a different vantage point, she first witnessed in Zaire.
"The major reason was, and everyone knows, that he fooled around," Porche said.
Eight days before the scheduled bout, Foreman suffered a cut over his right eye during a sparring session. Bob Goodman, Ali's publicist, said he got a call from Foreman's manager, Dick Sadler, to inspect the cut.
"It was a pretty deep cut and (Sadler) said, 'What do you think?'" Goodman recalled. "I said, 'I think we're going to have to get this fixed up and postpone the fight. And all of the sudden I'm hearing sirens."
It was Mandunga Bula, a Zaire minister who was the government official supervising the fight.
"He's outside the dressing room door and I'm inside with Foreman and Sadler and he says, 'Mr. Goodman, I hear there's a problem. What has happened?'" Goodman said. "I said, 'Well, Mr. Bula, I hate to tell you but George Foreman's been cut and I'm going to have to reach Don King … to get together and seeing about postponing the fight.
"He says, 'It's impossible! The fight will take place as scheduled!' I said, 'I don't think so. This is a bad cut.' We let him in to look at the cut so he'd know it was really a cut. But it would be up to like a five- or six-week postponement."
Over the years, Foreman has heard stories that he wanted to train in Paris after the cut and the Zaire government refused to let him leave because they feared he would not return. A total fabrication, according to Foreman, although he said he accepts responsibility for provoking fears that he would not fight Ali.
During negotiations before the fight, Foreman said, King promised him $500,000 on top of the guaranteed $5 million. At the time of the cut, the $5 million was secured in a bank and due Foreman upon completion of the fight. But he said he had yet to see the $500,000 and realized he suddenly had leverage.
"I told (King) if I didn't get my money, my half million dollars, there was not going to be a fight," said Foreman, adding that panicked government officials met with him and King then told him his money could be picked up in London.
Foreman said he dispatched a cousin and a business manager to London and he reached them several days later when they'd made it home to the United States — with an empty briefcase. Foreman said he still had no intention of walking away from the $5 million payday. He also said he thought he could force King to pay up because the promoter would need him for a fight after he beat Ali.
"That's how confident I was," he said.
With a laugh, King said he didn't recall the events Foreman described, but that he would not dispute the story.
"I love George Foreman," he said. "Foreman is just a heckuva guy. He was iconoclastic in those days.
"In the end, I think he did get $500,000 more than Ali got."
A MISTRESS UNDER SUSPICION
Khalilah Camacho-Ali isn't the only one who was suspicious of Porche when she heard her husband had taken an interest in the 18-year-old "poster girl." Members of Ali's training camp were suspicious of something else.
"All of his entourage was saying that I was a spy the George Foreman camp had sent over," Porche said.
The final week of training, Porche said, Ali sent her to a remote hotel to keep himself focused. She said she wanted to provide him with inspiration, so she handed a sealed enveloped to Howard "Pat" Patterson, Ali's bodyguard, and asked him to make sure Ali read the note before the fight.
"Pat later told me that they were afraid to give it to him," she said.
But, according to Porche, the bodyguard did give it to Ali after opening the envelope and seeing what she had written: Win or lose, I love you.
"I was trying to kill him," Foreman said of Ali. "I wasn't looking for a knockout, because if you're looking for a knockout, you use your skill. I didn't do that. I was trying desperately to destroy that man."
Ali probably knew as much, based on remarks he made before the two agreed to fight, according to Foreman.
"He was doing an interview," Foreman said. "I'd just knocked Kenny Norton out and someone else, and (Ali) said, 'George Foreman's no boxer. He's trying to kill people. That's not boxing.' And I was so ashamed because he knew the truth."
After the fight, Foreman complained about the ropes being loose — a critical factor as Ali leaned back against them to evade Foreman's punches.
"The ropes, which were brand new ropes, if they're left out in heat and humidity, the first couple of times you use them, they're going to stretch out," Goodman said. "So we had told them, 'Don't even tighten the ropes. Just leave them with the turnbuckles completely extended,' so when it came time to do the fight, you'd have plenty of room to take up the slack. And sure enough, they didn't do it."
Goodman said he and Dundee took up the slack, cut the ropes with razor blades and taped up the edges as Foreman's trainers and cornerman watched.
"They thought we were nuts, trying to fix this ring up that'd been left out in the heat and humidity," Goodman said.
During the first couple of fights on the undercard, the ropes stretched and the padded floor was spongy.
"(Ali) had already decided after round one that he couldn't get up on his toes and dance and prance in that ring with the soft padding," Goodman said. "And then when he went on the ropes, when George Foreman came at him on the ropes, and he leaned back and Foreman missed, he put two-and-two together and he said, 'Ah, that's going to be my strategy. I'm going to tire George out that way.'
"And the Rope-a-Dope was born."
Said Foreman: "In other words, (Ali) stayed on the ropes and I, like a dope, kept throwing punches. I was the dope."
THE BLOWN CALL
After the fight, there was some controversy about whether it was a "quick-count," if referee Zach Clayton reached the count of 10 and waved off the fight before Foreman had sufficient time to get up. Bob Sheridan, who served as lead broadcaster for the fight that was telecast on closed circuit and reportedly reached one billion viewers, would like to make an admission.
"I blew the call," he said.
It started with his positioning, according to Sheridan. Rather than being set up on the apron as was customary, he and a small army of color commentators were pushed back about 10 feet from the ring.
"When Foreman went down, I couldn't hear the guy who counts for the knockdowns and what number he was on," he said.
Suddenly many people were confused. At the time Sheridan reached a count of eight, Clayton was waving off the fight on a knockout.
And all ensuring controversy?
"All anybody had to do was ask me what happened," Sheridan said. "There's no question it was a full 10 count, a full 10 seconds."
FLAT ON HIS BACK
Entering his fight with Ali, Foreman was 40-0 and had never been knocked down, much less knocked out. Price, one of the promoters, said he'll never forget what he saw at Intercontinental Hotel in Kinshasa the morning after the fight.
"George Foreman took a mirror and laid down in the lobby so he could see what he looked like with him being on his back," Price said.
But Foreman said he was less demoralized by being knocked out than failing to knock out Ali.
"I just knew no one could stand up to my punch," he said. "But Muhammad did. His taking those punches, I went away thinking, 'What is going on here? That's not supposed to happen.' That bothered me more than anything."
HEART TO HEART
Hana Ali, one of the boxer's seven daughters, said her father gave her 60 hours of taped phone conversations. One of her favorites is a hourlong talk her father had with Foreman in 1979 — two years after Foreman had a religious experience that led to his quitting boxing and taking up preaching, at the same time Ali was entering the twilight of his career and, in retrospect, showing early signs of Parkinson's disease.
"George Foreman begins by warning my father not to do these boxing exhibitions that are going to lead him back to the ring," Hana said, "and he doesn't want him there. He said, 'I had a dream,' and he's telling him, 'God doesn't want you in the ring. You need to stop.' My dad says, 'It's just a boxing exhibition.' And he goes, 'No, stop now because it's going to lead apparently to something else.' And then, of course, my father only follows his own mind."
Ali would fight twice more competitively, and family members wonder if those bouts contributed to his Parkinson's disease.
Foreman returned to boxing in 1987, fought for another decade and in 1994 won the heavyweight championship of the world when at age 45 he beat Michael Moorer, then 26, and reclaimed the title he lost 20 years earlier. He received a congratulatory letter from his old nemesis.
"Can you imagine that?" Foreman said during a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports. "Who would think almost 20 years later, there's Muhammad, my conqueror, congratulating me in fighting for the championship of the world and winning it."
GALLERY: THE RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
In 1989, Foreman and Ali were in England with Joe Frazier, Kenny Norton and Larry Holmes as part of a "Champions Forever" tribute. It was five years after Ali had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
"He was still mouthy," Foreman said. "And he made a statement, and it was on the front of some London paper, that 'God is black.' They had a picture of him on the front page, and Frazier didn't like it. Frazier didn't like Muhammad.''
Later, Foreman recalled, the boxers were putting on tuxedos for a photo shoot.
"(Ali) came down and he was alone," Foreman said. "He couldn't put on his cuff links. He couldn't even put the bow tie around his neck. And I made certain there wasn't any cameras around and I took him in the room and I fixed him up because I wanted to make sure they see the beautiful Muhammad Ali."
Frazier saw what happened, and on a ride back from the event that night, he was livid, according to Foreman.
"Frazier said, 'Don't help him. Don't help him. Where are all those people that were screaming Ali? Where are all those hangers-on now? Nobody better help him. Leave him alone.'" Foreman said. "And I remember telling him, 'Joe, we are our brother's keeper.'
"There I was for the first time protecting what I was trying to destroy."
The epic heavyweight world championship bout between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali known as the 'Rumble in the Jungle' celebrates its 40th anniversary on Thursday.