Devils, Gods, and Defying Age – The Incredible Story of George Foreman
George Foreman has lived a crazy life. He grew up in a low-income household, dropped out of school, and pursued the challenge of boxing to become the most feared fighter in the world. He then left the sport following a near-death experience.
But perhaps the most unique achievement of Foreman’s time on this planet was winning a world title at the age of 45 years old.
This is the incredible story of George Foreman, one of boxing’s true legends.
Foreman’s Passage Into Boxing
Born into a poor household in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, George Foreman had anything but an easy start.
Raised by his mother and stepfather, the young Foreman grew to be a football fanatic with little time for school. However, it was in the schoolyard as a 16-year-old where the Texan would first flirt with the idea of taking up boxing.
While listening to the Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson bout on the radio, the self-confessed bully was challenged by other kids to channel his energy into the sport. According to Foreman, he accepted the “challenge.”
Foreman left behind a life of street-mugging and enlisted with the Job Corps, earning his GED and moving into carpentry and bricklaying. A supervisor assisted the curious Foreman with joining a boxing gym, and the heavyset youngster soon flourished.
Scoring a first-round knockout in his first-ever amateur bout in January 1967, Foreman would go on to earn a title in the juniors of the San Francisco Examiner’s Golden Gloves Tournament in February of that same year.
That same month, he added the Las Vegas Golden Gloves Senior Division title to his resume. The following year, Foreman won the San Francisco Examiner’s Senior Title in San Francisco, as well as the National Boxing Championships Heavyweight title.
A little more than two years after his first fight in the Ammies, Foreman had sparred on two occasions with the legendary world champion, Sonny Liston. It was an experience that he would never forget.
Having continued to make waves on the amateur scene, Foreman joined the United States Olympic boxing team for 1968 games in Mexico City, where he would go on to win gold with a knockout victory over Jonas Cepulis in the final.
The paid ranks waited for the heavy-fisted pugilist, and he wasted no time in turning professional the following year.
His First Professional Run
Foreman was tipped for big things after his gold medal in Mexico, and this, unsurprisingly, led to a scramble between promoters keen to sign him up.
However, Foreman saw past the multiple offers and decided to side with Sonny Liston’s manager and trainer, Dick Sadler. It turned out to be a wise move, as he would now have a former world champion to bounce off in the gym.
Sadler earned Foreman a slot on the undercard of June 1969’s Jimmy Ellis vs. Floyd Patterson bout in his debut fight. In Madison Square Garden, of all places. That night, Foreman stopped Don Waldhelm in three rounds.
The Texan was back in the ring just eight days later, and this packed schedule continued on until he tore through the division over the course of three years. In 1972, Foreman had improved to 37-0 and was ranked by the WBC and WBA as the number one contender for their heavyweight titles.
The only thing standing in the way of Foreman reaching the absolute apex of the sport was the Won WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
The heavyweight champion of the world was a sizeable betting favorite and was expected to beat Foreman comfortably. After all, he was just a few fights removed from handing Muhammad Ali his first professional defeat.
The fight, referred to as the “Sunshine Showdown,” was penciled in for January 22nd, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica. Foreman, who admitted to being terrified of Liston, trained like a demon and even had the help of former great Archie Moore in his camp.
Nobody could have expected what happened that night. Frazier was mauled by the young lion and hit the canvas an incredible six times in just two rounds. Foreman lifted the heavyweight champion up off his feet with one shot, making the fight a one-sided beatdown for the challenger and not the walk in the park that some had predicted for Frazier.
Foreman had made good on the promise he made in his schoolyard just six years prior. He was the heavyweight champion of the world. What’s more, he was the most feared man in the sport of boxing.
Foreman vs. Ali – The Rumble in the Jungle
Foreman made a successful first title defense against Jose Roman in September 1973, winning the bout by KO in round 1.
Following that win, Foreman blasted Ken Norton in just two rounds to make it two defenses on the bounce. Norton, who had beaten Muhammad Ali only to lose the rematch in September of ’73, looked hopeless against the knockout king from Houston.
No one wanted a part of Foreman around that time. Well, no one other than Ali. But the problem was that Ali was considered by some to be over the hill and would surely find the power of Foreman too much.
In 1967, the same year that Foreman was dreaming of a career in boxing, Ali was stripped of the heavyweight title due to the rejected draft. He was suspended for 42 months at a time when he was just entering his peak.
Nevertheless, Ali was granted a license in 1970 and went on to beat Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. This was before losing to Frazier in his first shot at the title since his return to the ring.
All of this led to Ali fighting his way back to the top of the pile before his ten-win streak was snapped by Norton that September. A win in the rematch earned him a shot at Foreman.
Having been initially scheduled to go down in September 1974 in Zaire, the “Rumble in the Jungle” was pushed back to October due to an eye injury sustained by Foreman in training. Little did Foreman know, it would end up going down as one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century.
Despite being a 4-1 underdog, Ali put in his greatest-ever performance in the ring. He shocked the world by knocking Foreman out in round 8. That night, “The Greatest” introduced the world to the “rope-a-dope” and solidified his place as a boxing mega-legend.
For Foreman, it would mark the beginning of the end of his career.
Foreman’s Near-Death Experience and First Retirement
Following the loss to Ali, Foreman’s mentality had changed. He was no longer the all-conquering wrecking ball and had to watch Ali take his throne as the king of boxing. He wouldn’t fight again until 1976.
Foreman went on to win his next five fights, including a rematch with Frazier. But the biggest battle of his career was one that required no gloves or gumshield.
Following a unanimous decision loss to Jimmy Young, Foreman suffered a near-death experience, having suddenly fallen ill in his dressing room after the fight. The former champion claimed that he gave his life to God that night, convinced that he communicated with the divine while at death’s door.
Foreman, just 28, walked away from the sport of boxing to pursue life as a born-again Christian.
It must have been a wild sight to witness the former champion of the world preaching on corners, but Foreman had dedicated himself to God and being a wholesome family man. He eventually became the reverend at Houston’s Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and also opened a youth center in the city.
With his boxing career behind him, Foreman concentrated on his newfound passion, while his stature in the sport shrunk with every passing year.
But then, something truly unbelievable happened. In 1987, Foreman, aged 38, announced that he was returning to the ring. At the time, there were few people that would have expected just how serious he was about getting back in the ring.
Foreman’s Second Run in Boxing
Ten years had passed since Foreman laced up the gloves. What’s more, the big man that had changed from a heavyweight assassin into a reverend hadn’t so much as shadowboxed in that time.
Foreman admitted that his motivating factor for staging a comeback was to raise money for his youth center. Having no other means of coming up with the cash, boxing seemed to be his only option.
He also claimed that he wanted to fight the world’s number one heavyweight on the planet, Mike Tyson. In his return to the ring, Foreman stopped Steve Zouski, a journeyman, to make the sports headlines. Although he weighed 267 pounds that night, Foreman began to look better in every subsequent fight.
By the end of 1988, he had 13 wins on the bounce, including a victory over former light heavyweight and cruiserweight king Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
The following year, things started to rapidly improve on the cash front, as the boxer sold his image and name rights to the now-famous George Foreman Grill, among other things.
Foreman put together a sublime 23-fight winning streak before it was snapped by Evander Holyfield in April 1991. But this loss didn’t deter him, and neither did his appetite to win a second world title.
Having won three of his next four bouts, the other being a loss to then-WBO champion Tommy Morrison, Foreman might have expected to never get another crack at a title. But undeterred, he managed to upset the odds by landing a fight with the reigning WBA, IBF, and lineal heavyweight champ Michael Moorer.
Foreman vs. Moorer – The Record-Breaking Fight
At 45 years and 360 days old, George Foreman was aiming to become the oldest heavyweight champion in the history of the sport.
But as the fight started, it didn’t look as though things were going his way.
Moorer had the best of the fight, and he was hitting Foreman frequently. He fought behind a solid jab, controlling the action and setting the pace. Despite that, the big man was still on his feet and coming forward.
Foreman had only ever lost by knockout once, to Ali, and it didn’t look as though he was going to be stopped this time. However, he was seriously trailing the champion on the scorecards, having arguably won just two rounds from seven.
Angelo Dundee, Foreman’s trainer, told him that the only way he would win this fight was to commit to a knockout. Foreman duly obliged.
On the opposite side of the ring, Moorer’s trainer, Teddy Atlas, demanded his fighter to keep his distance. Moorer didn’t listen and was taking heavy shots from the older man.
Then, Foreman shocked the world by landing a straight right that downed Moorer, effectively knocking him out. The punch was so hard that it bust his lip and broke the champion’s mouthguard.
Unbelievably, “Big” George Foreman was a champion once more. While some had laughed when he announced his comeback, they were certainly not laughing when Moorer was floored.
Foreman broke a number of records that night, including being the oldest man to ever win a world title. It was an astonishing achievement, and one that will forever hold a place in the memories of boxing fans all over the world.
George Foreman’s contribution to the world didn’t exactly end after that fight, but it seems appropriate to finish the story of his boxing career there.
It’s crazy to think about how a guy that took up boxing to prove some other kids wrong would end up achieving so much. But the manner of how he shot to the top, only to fall back down again and follow the same trajectory decades later, is what makes everything so remarkable.
A gentle giant and a family man, Foreman is still one of the sport’s true ambassadors. And long shall it stay that way.
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