Will Smith should have injected more “Fresh Prince” into his performance as Muhammad Ali to capture the boxer’s unique sense of humour, heavyweight legend George Foreman believes. The former world champion enjoyed a scintillating rivalry with Ali, culminating in 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle, and says his opponent was “so much fun” even if you were trying to knock him out.
Foreman, now 74, lost the world famous fight, but he went on to reclaim the title aged 45, before making a fortune in business.
His rags-to-riches life has been turned into a biopic, Big George Foreman, set to hit cinema screens this week. Starring Khris Davis, it comes more than 20 years after the film Ali, which saw Will Smith play “the Greatest” boxer.
Foreman revealed he had been looking forward to watching Smith’s portrayal, but felt it was too serious. He said: “I remember the producers asked me what did I think of Will Smith playing Muhammad Ali. I’ve met Will Smith a few times, he’s a nice guy.
“I said it would be great because I thought he would be the guy from the TV show Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, that he’d take that character to play Muhammad.
“But he took another serious side, it didn’t really show Muhammad because Muhammad Ali was so full of fun and jokes and everything, and that didn’t come out. People who met Muhammad Ali were better off in their life and that movie didn’t quite do it, they didn’t have enough fun with it.
“The greatest thing about Muhammad Ali was that he was so much fun. He was a joker. I tried to knock him out every day, things he had to say about me when I look back, but it was still funny.” Foreman says he had high hopes for his own life story on the big screen but appreciated that the film-makers would put their own spin on it.
“Hollywood’s got its pick on things the way they see things,” he said. “I see things maybe another way, but it’s a wonderful thing because I leave a story behind in case I leave this life.
“I got a chance to spend some time with Khris Davis and he wanted to spend some time with me really to check me out. He’s a great actor and I think he’s done a fine job on the film. He transformed his body from a lean mean guy to a big old George Foreman, so the guy’s an actor.”
Once the most feared fighter in the world, Foreman has mellowed with faith and age, and says he was determined to spend the rest of his life “spreading kindness”.
He said: “I’ve dedicated myself to being the best person I can be. I used to believe that to some you’re good and some you try to knock them out, in and out of the ring. That disappeared when I found religion.
“I found out that every human being you speak to matters. There’s nothing like a kind word to give to your friends and family, that’s what religion means for me, spreading kindness.” Foreman said he has always had a soft spot for the UK and enjoyed London ever since receiving a hero’s welcome there as world champion.
“My favourite city from all around the world is London,” he said. “Every time I’m there I feel it’s my home away from home. I shop. I have the best mushrooms for breakfast. I love London. My first visit was in 1973 when I was the heavyweight champion and I went on a tour. I was booked into a hotel called Grosvenor and for the first time in my life I had a butler attending to me.
“He would be saying, ‘Yes sir, Mr Foreman. Yes sir, Mr Foreman’ and I had to call home and tell them of this experience of being something special, like a TV star. To this day it’s been the best hotel I’ve stayed at.
“I look forward to my visits to England, I love the country and I love the people. I get a chance to be a celebrity again. The people never stopped treating me good ever since I was the champion for the first time. They continue to treat me like a champ.”
● Big George Foreman (Sony Pictures) is in cinemas everywhere from Friday