Fighters who lost to Muhammad Ali in the ring during his illustrious boxing career were among those paying tribute to the sports and cultural icon after his death Friday at 74.
They included Chuck Wepner, the boxer known as the “Bayonne Bleeder,” who told the Jersey Journal he was “very sad” to hear of Ali’s passing.
“I loved the guy, he was the greatest and I’m crushed by it,” Wepner, 77, told the paper. “I thought that he’d come out of this one too, because he was the greatest.”
Ali was hospitalized Monday in Arizona with respiratory problems related to Parkinson’s disease. His family was at his side when he died, a family spokesman said Saturday.
Wepner lost to Ali in a decision on March 24, 1975. He went 15 rounds and knocked Ali down near the end of the fight.
“I was the only guy to knock him down when he was champion of the world,” Wepner told FOX Sports. “(Sonny) Liston was the biggest puncher I ever fought, but all around, the most skilled fighter, it was Muhammad Ali by far. It was an honor to fight the guy, and to this day I'm very proud of myself for what I accomplished in that fight.”
Hana Ali & the whole family, my heart goes out you. Muhammad Ali has been a fine man. That will never die. pic.twitter.com/3L5HK0zPCb— George Foreman (@GeorgeForeman) June 4, 2016
George Forman, who was knocked out when he fought Ali in the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire in 1974, remembered Ali in an interview with Fox News Saturday.
“Oh boy,” he said. “No better words to describe Muhammad Ali, the greatest,” Foreman said.
“You got into the ring with them and you expected to beat up a guy, beat up a fighter, of which I had beaten everybody,” he said. “But this time I got into the ring with this phenomenon and there’s no way he was going to lose and that’s the way he felt about life. No way he was going to lose.”
Foreman said he hit Ali with everything he had during the fight but knew he was in trouble when Ali whispered in his ear, “Is that all you got, George?”
“That was a horrible situation because that was all I had,” Foreman said. “I never been in the ring with anyone tougher in my life.”
Uruguayan Alfredo Evangelista was a young fighter in 1977 when he lost a decision to Ali outside Washington.
“You have to bow to the evidence: He was the greatest,” Evangelista told El Heraldo newspaper after hearing of Ali’s death. “Not just of my era, but of all time.”
He told the Spanish newspaper what it was like to trade punches with Ali.
“He missed as much or more than anyone, but in a moment, he would react and make it seem that he was doing it all perfectly,” he said. “He was unimaginably fast, a genius.”
He added that Ali was a friend.
“He had a heart as large as the vacuum he leaves behind,” Evangelista said. “I would say that he was an even better human being than a boxer.”
Ali also made a lasting impression on the British fighter Richard Dunn, who lost to Ali in Germany in 1976 when Ali was defending his heavyweight crown.
Dunn told Sky Sports News that he thought Ali’s legacy would last forever.
“When we’ve long gone they’ll still be talking about him and it’ll be worthwhile as well,” he said. “He was such a fantastic champion.”
He added, “He was a hell of a fighter.”