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Foreman, George

Category: Sportsman

 

George Edward Foreman (born January 10, 1949) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1969 to 1977, and from 1987 to 1997.

Nicknamed "Big George", he is a two-time world heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist. Outside the sport he is an ordained minister, author, and entrepreneur.

After a troubled childhood, Foreman took up amateur boxing and won a gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Having turned professional the next year, he won the world heavyweight title with a second-round knockout of then-undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973.

Ten years later he announced a comeback and, in 1994, at age 45, he regained a portion of the heavyweight championship by knocking out 27-year-old Michael Moorer to win the unified WBA, IBF, and lineal titles. Foreman remains the oldest world heavyweight champion in history, and the second oldest in any weight class after Bernard Hopkins (at light heavyweight). He retired in 1997 at the age of 48, with a final record of 76 wins (68 knockouts) and 5 losses.

Foreman has been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

 

EVERYONE NEEDS A SECOND CHANCE, EVEN IF YOUR NAME IS George Foreman. You might know me as the guy on television who advertises the George Foreman grills, Meineke Car Care, or Casual Male Big &. Tall clothes. If you follow sports, you may know me as the world's heavy-weight boxing champion who lost to Muhammad Ali and then came back twenty years later to win the heavyweight title again at forty-five years of age. But what few people know is that something incredibly strange happened to me on the evening of March 17, 1977. That supernatural experience defined my life so dramatically that it divided my identity into two Georges. The old George lived prior to that day, which I’ll refer to as "my first time around." Ever since then, I've been the new George. God gave me another chance at life, and I've been determined to do it right this time. When we start out in life, we often travel down some wrong roads, hurting ourselves and others along the way. Most of us have to hit bottom before the lightbulb turns on and we realize that we've blown it. It's at that critical moment that we must seize the opportunity and change directions. We must start traveling down a different road, leading to a new destination. My second chance arrived unexpectedly in a Puerto Rican dressing room after a heavyweight boxing match. What happened to me in that room is so incredibly bizarre, it’s unlikely you've ever before read anything like it. Simply stated, I died and went to the other side. The experience impacted me so profoundly that three decades later I can’t go a single day without thinking about it.

 The Old George

George Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas. He grew up in the Fifth Ward, Houston, with six siblings. Although he was raised by J.D. Foreman, whom his mother had married when George was a small child, his biological father was Leroy Moorehead.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

I knew first hand what it was like to live in poverty. My alcoholic father, J. D. Foreman, worked on the railroad and didn't live at home most of the time, leaving my mom to provide for her seven children. Her salary of $26 per week didn’t stretch far when eight mouths wanted food.

 

I was a big boy, so I was always hungry. It wasn’t till years later, after I started boxing, that I could remember my stomach feeling full after a meal. Mom sometimes brought home a single hamburger for her kids and herself to divide. It was such a luxury; I grew up believing hamburgers were only for rich people. She would tear it into eight pieces, and we all got one bite. I savored the few seconds it stayed in my mouth, dreaming of the day when I might get to eat an entire hamburger by myself. Every other Sunday: she made us pancakes and allotted one small piece of bacon to each child. Breakfast usually consisted of a bowl of cornflakes covered with watered-down milk. Hardly the breakfast of champions. School lunches weren’t any better. Most of the time I carried a mayonnaise sandwich to school with me. Every now and then, my mother would slip in a thin piece of luncheon meat. I drank water with it, wishing I could afford one of those little cartons of milk that cost six cents. Sometimes, when I was playing with the neighborhood kids, their parents would call them home to eat lunch. I had no lunch waiting for me, so I would peek through the windows and watch my friends eat. My mouth watered as I'd see them tear the crust off their bread. Then they’d pull the chicken skins off their drumsticks because they didn't want them. I thought, I would love to eat what they don't want. I wished they would have asked me to take their scraps out to the dogs so I could get a bite to eat too.

 

By his own admission in his autobiography, George was a troubled youth. He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and later joined the Job Corps.  But he was helped by an inordinately large number of very kind people.  The first person who made a difference was a lady who helped out when his mother was hospitalised with TB.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

The social services representative contacted a wonderful woman by the name of Bonner to help look after me. Ms. Bonner lived way out of town, but she came into the city looking for me, hoping to spend some time with me. She took an interest in me and tried to help me stay out of trouble while my mom was in the hospital.

 

One day Ms. Bonner told me, "George, I'm going to come over on the weekend, and I’d like you to come back home with me to cut my grass. I'll pay you for working."
"Can I have a couple of my friends come along, too?" I asked. "Sure you can," Ms. Bonner answered. That weekend, Ms. Bonner picked up two of my friends and me and drove us out of town to her place. She took us to the shed and showed us the lawn mower. "Okay, George, you can mow the grass. You other fellows can do the trim and follow behind him to rake up the cuttings."
"Well, Ms. Bonner, my buddy here," I said, pointing to one of my friends, "his dad has a lawn mower. He knows how to do it better than I would. Maybe I should let him mow the grass."
"No, George," she said, "I want you to do it."
"Really?"
"That's right. You are in charge, George."
"But his dad has a . . ."
"You!" I looked at Ms. Bonner, then at my buddies. I said, "Okay, guys; let's get going." We worked at Ms. Bonner's all day long, and I felt so good when she handed me some money as payment. More importantly, I felt good about myself. I didn’t realize it fully at the time, but looking back on that experience, I now understand that Ms. Bonner was allowing me to be somebody. For the first time in my life, a non-family member was telling me, "You can do it, George. I believe in you!" To this day, my life is indebted to Ms. Bonner. That little dash of self-esteem she helped to foster in me is still with me today. Ms. Bonner made me feel so good about myself, and part of the reason I am who I am today is because of Ms. Bonner.

Foreman readily admits that as a youth he was a dangerous thug. 

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

By the time I was sixteen years of age, I was a vicious, savage teenager, picking fights in school or wherever I went. Not surprisingly, I dropped out of school in ninth grade and started looking for a job. But not too many people want to hire a ninth-grade dropout. Eventually, I took a job washing dishes in a restaurant. I figured that my only way out of poverty was to use my fists and fight my way out. Sometimes I beat up two or three people a day. I was brutal, too. One time I walked up to a guy who hadn’t done anything to me, and without warning, I punched him right in the face, just to be nasty. He hit the dirt like a rock. I walked away with him still laid out semi-conscious on the ground. Because my conscience was so encrusted with hate, it didn't bother me to see people bleeding or knocked out cold. Many times, I mugged people just to get some drinking money. I was really good at beating up people, although it never dawned on me at the time that one day people would pay to watch me fight.

 

But the next person to enter his life was to prove key, Charles Broadus was the man who launched him on his boxing career.  Furthermore he stuck with him to make sure he did not give up.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

I first saw Charles Broadus while I was standing in line my first day at the Pleasanton center. A stocky, muscular man, "Doc," as everyone called him, was head of security for the center. He was also in charge of the facility’s sports activities. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and said, "I want to be a boxer. Do you think I can?” Doc Broadus looked me up and down and said, "You're big enough." He paused and looked at me some more. "And you’re ugly enough. Come on down to the gym."

 

Doc became a mentor to me. He taught me the difference between mere fighting and boxing. He told me, "If you will stay out of trouble, you can be a champion; you can win an Olympic gold medal." Doc genuinely cared about me and treated me as a son. He had a lot of other young men to look after, many of whom were much better athletes than I was, but for some reason, Doc Broadus believed in me, and he helped me to believe in myself.
Thanks to Doc, I felt that I could actually accomplish something in my life. It was through the Job Corps that I first learned how to box. I knew how to hit people with my fists growing up in a tough neighbourhood, but boxing was a whole new game. Although I had size and skills, I didn’t know how to correctly throw punches and defend myself………….
Doc Broadus used his own paycheck- much to his wife's chagrin-to purchase me a one-way ticket to Oakland. By the time I got there, he already had a job lined up for me at the Job Corps in Pleasanton, where I could earn some money mopping floors and doing dishes while training in the gym during my free time. And did we ever train! Doc worked me hard, and I was a willing student. Eventually, I went on to the Olympic trials, where I earned the right to be the United States' heavyweight boxing representative in the 1968 Olympic Games. In Mexico City I defeated a Russian heavyweight named Jonas Čepulis to win the Olympic gold medal. Many people still remember me as the guy who proudly strutted around the ring afterward, waving a miniature United States flag. I wanted the whole world to know that an American had won that medal.

 

Foreman turned professional in 1969 with a three-round knockout of Donald Walheim in New York. He had a total of 13 fights that year, winning all of them (11 by knockout).  In 1970, Foreman continued his march toward the undisputed heavyweight title, winning all 12 of his bouts (11 by knockout). In 1971, Foreman won seven more fights, winning all of them by knockout. After amassing a record of 32–0 (29 KO), he was ranked as the number one challenger by the WBA and WBC.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

With my reputation as a fierce boxer firmly established, sometimes I didn’t have to work too hard for a knockout. I had to fight a young kid before I could fight Joe Frazier. The kid was a contender, but it was clear from the beginning of the fight that he was scared to death. I swung at the fellow and missed by six inches, but the fellow went reeling as though I had caught him with the full force of my fist. I swung again with all my might and missed him by two inches. Boom! The guy hit the mat and didn't get up.
“Get up!” l yelled at him. The fellow didn’t move. The referee called a technical knockout (TKO) and declared me the winner. I should have been happy, but I wasn't. I was mad! Later, after the fight, I saw the boxer again.
He said, "You were really upset that I went down, weren’t you?"
I said, "Yes, I was."
 "You wanted me to get up, didn't you?"
"Yes!" I said emphatically.
“'And you wanted to kill me."
 "Yes!" I bellowed.
 "That's why I didn’t get up."
 I worked my way up the rankings, never losing a fight. On January 22, 1973, with a record of 37 wins and no losses, I met undefeated Smokin Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title of the world. Frazier was a formidable champion who had fought twenty-nine opponents and had knocked out twenty-five of them. He wasn't called "Smokin' Joe" for nothing. Nevertheless, the bout didn’t last long. I knocked Frazier down five times before finishing him off in the second round. From my humble beginnings in Houston, I now reigned as the heavyweight champ of the world.

 

Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” The fight was stopped in the second round and George Foreman was the new heavyweight champion of the world.   The Sunshine Showdown took place on January 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.

Foreman defended his title successfully twice during his initial reign as champion. His first defense, in Tokyo, pitted him against Puerto Rican Heavyweight Champion José Roman. Roman was not regarded as a top contender, and it took Foreman only 2 minutes to end the fight, one of the fastest knockouts in a Heavyweight Championship bout.
Foreman's next defense was in 1974, against the highly regarded Ken Norton. After an even first round, Foreman staggered Norton with an uppercut a minute into round two, buckling him into the ropes. Norton did not hit the canvas but continued on wobbly legs, clearly not having recovered, and shortly he went down a further two times in quick succession, with the referee intervening and stopping the fight.

 

Foreman's next title defence, against Muhammad Ali, was historic. During the summer of 1974, he travelled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to defend his title against Ali. The bout was promoted as "The Rumble in the Jungle."  Foreman lost.  Though he sought one, he was unable to secure a rematch with Ali.

Foreman remained inactive during 1975. In 1976, he announced a comeback.  His first opponent was Ron Lyle, who had been defeated by Muhammad Ali in 1975.  The fight was long and brutal, but, as if finally tired, Lyle stopped punching, and Foreman delivered a dozen unanswered blows until Lyle collapsed. Lyle remained on the canvas and was counted out, giving Foreman the KO victory.

For his next bout, Foreman chose to face Joe Frazier in a rematch. Frazier was eventually floored twice by Foreman in the fifth round and the fight was stopped. Next, Foreman knocked out Scott LeDoux in three rounds and prospect John Dino Denis in four to finish the year.

The New George

But we now have the event that produced the spiritual experience that changed George’s life.  It was 1977 and Foreman had flown to Puerto Rico a day before the fight without giving himself time to acclimatise. His opponent was the skilled boxer Jimmy Young, who had beaten Ron Lyle and lost a very controversial decision to Muhammad Ali the previous year. Foreman tired during the second half of the fight and suffered a knockdown in round 12 en route to losing a decision.

Foreman became ill in his dressing room after the fight. He was suffering from exhaustion and heatstroke. We have provided the full description as an observation, but although many refer to George’s experience as a near death experience, he actually experienced a rebirth, which is generally infinitely more terrifying than a near death experience.  He described being in a hellish, frightening place of nothingness and despair.

healthy eating George style

After the experience, Foreman became a born-again Christian, dedicating his life for the next decade to God. Although he did not formally retire from boxing, Foreman stopped fighting and became an ordained minister, initially preaching on street corners before becoming the reverend at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston and devoting himself to his family and his congregation. He also opened a youth center that bears his name. Foreman continues to share his conversion experience on Christian television broadcasts such as The 700 Club and the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

God in my Corner – A Spiritual Memoir – George Foreman

It's been three decades since my experience in that Puerto Rican dressing room, but it's just as real to me today as the day it happened. I don’t remember many of the details about my fight in Zaire with Ali. It's pretty much out of my mind. Even though I regained the heavyweight boxing title in 1994, I can’t remember much about it. But I'll never forget what happened in that dressing room in 1977. Every detail remains vivid to me. I've been trying to live in that moment for the last thirty years. I'll never forget it. But those men in the dressing room who witnessed my conversion-it's the oddest thing-they never talk about it. Over the years, whenever I've tried discussing it with them, they quickly change the subject. To me, it's strange that they aren’t curious about it and don’t want to know more. One thing they can't deny is that I've been a different man ever since that day. Round one, the first twenty-eight years of my life, was a charade. That was behind me. Now, I was ready to begin round two-my second chance at life.

 

In 1987, after 10 years away from the ring, Foreman surprised the boxing world by announcing a comeback at the age of 38. In his autobiography, he wrote that his primary motive was to raise money to fund the youth center he had created, which had required much of the money he had earned in the initial phase of his career. Although many thought his decision to return to the ring was a mistake, he started to win fights.  By 1989, while continuing his comeback, Foreman sold his name and face for the advertising of various products, the formerly aloof, ominous Foreman had been replaced by a smiling, friendly George.

In 1994, Foreman sought to challenge for the world championship after Michael Moorer had beaten Holyfield for the IBF and WBA titles.  Moorer was 19 years his junior.  For nine rounds, Moorer easily outboxed Foreman, hitting and moving away, while Foreman chugged forward, seemingly unable to "pull the trigger" on his punches. Entering the tenth round, Foreman was trailing on all scorecards. However, Foreman launched a comeback in the tenth round and hit Moorer with a number of punches. Then a short right hand caught Moorer on the tip of his chin, gashing open his bottom lip and he collapsed to the canvas. He lay flat on his back as the referee counted him out.

In an instant, Foreman had regained the title he had lost to Muhammad Ali two decades before. He went back to his corner and knelt in prayer as the arena erupted in cheers. With this historic victory, Foreman broke three records: he became, at 45, the oldest fighter ever to win the World Heavyweight Championship; 20 years after losing his title for the first time, he broke the record for the fighter with the longest interval between his first and second world championships; and the age spread of 19 years between the champion and challenger was the largest of any heavyweight boxing championship fight.  In 1996, Foreman fought for the last time, at the age of 48.

 

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