"My opponents didn't worry about losing to me. They worried about getting hurt."
A former heavyweight champion, George Foreman is considered one of the best punchers and among the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. In a stunning upset, Foreman returned to boxing at the age of forty-five after a second retirement to regain his heavyweight title. In doing so, he became the oldest man in the history of the sport to win a major heavyweight title. Of Foreman's win, Hans J. Massaquoi of Ebony said: "He dealt a crashing blow to conventional wisdom which insisted that middle-aged men had no business pursuing world heavyweight championships and instead ought to play with their grandchildren." Foreman eventually retired in 1997, one month shy of his forty-ninth birthday. Despite his rough upbringing, Foreman retired as one of the most popular figures in sports history.
Since his retirement from professional boxing, Foreman has written several books, worked as a boxing analyst for HBO, endorsed household-name products like the George Foreman Grill, and has started his own line of cleaning products and personal care products. In 2003, Foreman was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
George Edward Foreman was born on January 10, 1949, in Marshall, Texas. He grew up in the Fifth Ward, a poor neighborhood on the north side of Houston, Texas, where he had a troubled childhood, and quit school before the ninth grade. By that time, Foreman had already gained a reputation as a gang leader, a thief, and a heavy drinker. Former football player Lester Hayes grew up with Foreman, and told Sports Illustrated that the young George "was a very, very big kid and had a reputation for savage butt kickings." Foreman told the same magazine that back then he thought a hero was someone with "a big, long scar down his face, a guy who'd come back from prison, a guy [who] maybe killed a man once." He even went so far as to wear bandages on his own face so it would seem like he had a scar.
With no direction, Foreman drifted, spending most of his time on the streets with no idea of how to make a life for himself. "I remember once," he told Sports Illustrated, "two boys and myself, we robbed a guy. Threw him down. I could hold the guy because I was strong, and the sneaky fella would grab the money. And then we'd run until we couldn't hear the guy screaming anymore. And then we'd walk home as if we'd just earned some money on a job, counting it. We didn't even know we were criminals."
Saved by boxing
Trying to get his life together, Foreman traveled to Oregon and joined the Jobs Corps where he became involved in a savage fistfight in the town of Pleasanton, California. When the counselors couldn't pull Foreman off of his opponent, they called supervisor Doc Broadus for help. Broadus managed to stop the fight, but realized that Foreman's incredible strength needed to be directed toward something constructive.
Broadus had a special talent for developing boxers. He took Foreman to the gym and taught him the art of boxing. Within two years, Foreman had developed into a powerful amateur (unpaid) heavyweight. In 1968, he won the U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials, earning the right to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. Foreman won the gold medal at the Olympics and is remembered for waving an American flag in the ring after his final victory. The Olympic victory remains the highlight of his life. "None of it felt as good as when I was poor and had that gold medal, when I wore it so long I had to have the ribbon restitched," Foreman reminisced in Sports Illustrated.
Foreman turned professional in 1969 and worked his way toward the championship. He made quick work of his opponents, going undefeated in his first forty fights and winning more than half of those within two rounds. "My opponents didn't worry about losing to me," he told Sports Illustrated. "They worried about getting hurt." In January 1973, Foreman fought heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier who had stunned the world by beating Muhammad Ali, and was favored to beat Foreman. "I'm gonna knock Joe Frazier out," Foreman boasted before the fight. Foreman's prediction turned out to be correct. He knocked Frazier down six times before the referee stopped the fight. Now it was Foreman who was considered unbeatable.
One of the most famous fights in boxing history took place on October 30, 1974, in the African nation of Zaire. Foreman, the overpowering champion, faced the legend Muhammad Ali, who feared no fighter and used a new tactic called the "rope-a-dope" in his fight with Foreman. For the first six rounds, Ali leaned against the ropes, daring Foreman to hit him, then covering up his head and body with his arms and his gloves. Foreman threw punch after punch, but they had no effect on Ali. By round seven, Foreman was tired and Ali was still unhurt. In the eighth round, Ali knocked Foreman out to achieve one of the greatest wins in boxing history.
The loss haunted Foreman, who tried to convince Ali to give him a rematch. Losing the title destroyed Foreman's self-esteem and almost ruined his life. "You have to build yourself up [after losing], so you start spending billions of dollars on cars, suits, and anything you can do to make yourself look like the best in the world," Foreman confessed to Sports Illustrated, explaining why he had spent his boxing fortune. Always a vicious puncher, Foreman became angry and mean. "After I lost to Ali, I'd decided I needed more hate."
Retires from boxing
Foreman continued to box, and in 1977, lost to Jimmy Young in a twelve-round decision. Suffering from extreme dehydration caused by losing so much water during the fight, Foreman lay flat on his back in the training room. "I'm wakin' from the dead," he told a reporter after the fight. "Wait around till midnight, and I will come out of my coffin." After the fight, Foreman claimed he had a vision from God. He decided right then to retire from boxing. Foreman became a born-again Christian following his retirement and preached on Houston street corners and in churches. He eventually became an ordained minister with the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Despite his religious beliefs, Foreman still was not in control of his life. Between 1981 and 1983, Foreman married and divorced three times. One of his wives flew to the country of Barbados with the couple's two children, and Foreman followed, literally stealing the children back. The turmoil was enough to finally make him stop and examine his life.
Between 1983 and 1986, Foreman seemed to have found peace at last. His small church and a gym he had built next door—the George Foreman Youth and Community Center—filled his days. He remarried and fathered the last of three sons—all of whom he named George. Gradually, however, the cost of running the church and the gym used up the rest of the money Foreman had earned in boxing. At the same time, his oldest children were nearing the age when they would need money to go to college.
In 1987 at the age of forty, Foreman returned to boxing. It wasn't an easy decision because his weight had increased to more than 300 hundred pounds since leaving the ring. He trained hard, brought his weight down to 260 pounds, and soon was fighting again. But boxing experts didn't take him seriously because Foreman was only agreeing to matches with fighters he could easily beat. "This is pathetic, it shouldn't be allowed. He's overage, inept," boxing commentator Ferdie Pacheco told Sports Illustrated.
In the ring, Foreman won twenty straight fights, nineteen of them by knockout. "It still only takes me one punch," he told the Boston Globe. "Whump. The power is still there." He also became a fan favorite outside the ring, making jokes about his age, his weight, and his love of junk food. Foreman would always tell reporters that he was coming from or going to a restaurant.
The jokes were all part of boxing show business. "I don't even take myself serious," Foreman admitted in Sport. "It's a game. It's sports. I can't stand it when athletes take themselves so serious. If people want to hear a joke, they must need a joke. They get plenty of seriousness, plenty of hardship, in their own lives. That's the reason, when I'm on television, I never get serious. When they flip that camera on, it's like 'Showtime.'"
Foreman also joked about being out of shape, but that wasn't the complete truth. "I've gotten to where I am," he told Sport, "because I'm the hardest-working fighter in the world. I train all the time, seven days a week." Even though he joked about how much he ate, Foreman actually maintained a very balanced diet. He also had a unique way of jogging. He attached a punching bag to the back of a pickup truck and continually punched the bag while running behind the truck. "I run behind that thing, punching. Sometimes as much as 10 miles, all the time punching and moving." He didn't mind if his opponents didn't believe he trained hard. "It's only to my advantage," he told Sport.
In June 1990, Foreman knocked out Adilson Rodrigues in the twenty-second fight of his comeback—his first win over a ranked opponent. Soon, some were seriously considering Foreman a title contender. "Let's cut all this nonsense out," Foreman announced after the fight. "Let's get George Foreman and Mike Tyson [the heavyweight champion] together, once and for all." Foreman would not fight Tyson, who was sent to prison after being convicted on a rape charge. But on April 19, 1991, Foreman faced the new heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield. "You're looking at a guy who's been champ of the world, lost the championship of the world. I've had life from every angle," Foreman told Sport before the fight. "That's why I'm not ever worried about losing. The only thing that frightens me about fighting Evander Holyfield is that I might hurt him. I don't want to ever hurt anybody."
At forty-two years of age, Foreman became the oldest man ever to fight for the heavyweight championship. When he last held the title, Holyfield was ten years old. Foreman lost a tough twelve-round decision, but gained the respect of everyone who watched the fight. In the twelfth round, it was Holyfield, not Foreman, who seemed to be tired. "In that last round, I had him dizzy, I looked in his eyes and it looked like he was asking for mercy," Foreman said after the fight. "The referee said, 'Let him go,' but he wouldn't let go. I should have gotten to him sooner."
"He was strong all the way to the end," said Holyfield. While Foreman hit Holyfield with harder punches, Holyfield hit Foreman with a larger number. Foreman had Holyfield in trouble in the second, fifth, and seventh rounds, but he would not go down. "I hit him a few times, I hit him and he would actually be out," Foreman said. "But the next thing you know, he's [Holyfield's] hitting me." "I feel like I'm the victor," Foreman told Jet. "When you've done your best, and you've given your all, then you're the best person you can be.... He had the points [from the judges], but I made the point," Foreman said after the fight. "If you can live, you can dream."
After the Holyfield fight, Foreman's wife, Joan, tried to talk him into retiring. He still wanted one last chance at winning the title, though, and in April 1992 he fought Alex Stewart, who was thought to be an easy opponent. Foreman knocked him down twice in the second round, but Stewart wouldn't quit. Foreman won the ten-round fight on a decision, but only after a tough battle that left him bruised and bloodied. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is George Foreman. Can you please tell me where the aspirin are?" he joked after the fight.
When he was forty-four years old, Foreman had his final fight against twenty-four-year-old Tommy Morrison, in a twelve-round match for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) championship. Morrison, able to move quickly around the ring, was too fast for Foreman to hit. When the bout was over, Morrison had earned a decision. Foreman announced his retirement following the fight. "I've had fun, so much fun this time. I don't think I'm going to box anymore," he said. "I've got nothing to be ashamed of."
Foreman once again shocked the boxing world when he announced another return to the ring. The reason was a shot at the heavyweight title held by Michael Moorer, the champion who was undefeated in thirty-five fights. The bout took place in November 1994 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Foreman chose to wear the same boxing trunks he had worn twenty years earlier when he lost his title to Ali. The much younger Moorer held the advantage for the first nine rounds of the fight. Then, in the tenth round, Foreman landed a huge righthanded punch that knocked Moorer to the canvas. When he couldn't climb to his feet, Foreman was once again heavyweight champion. He became the oldest boxer, at age forty-five, to win the title. "Now," said Foreman after the fight. "I won't have to be introduced as the former heavyweight champion of the world any longer."
In April 1995, Foreman—despite showing his age—retained his International Boxing Federation (IBF) crown by winning a grueling twelve-round majority decision over Germany's Axel Schulz. The victory—before nine thousand fans in Las Vegas—helped Foreman earn $10 million and raised his career record to 74-4.
End of the line
After fighting Schultz, Foreman went into semi-retirement. He did not fight again for nearly a year and a half, when he returned to the ring at the age of forty-seven to face Crawford Grimsley in November 1996. Because he had not fought for so long, Foreman had been stripped of his heavyweight titles. He struggled against Grimsley, but won a tough decision. "He was a good fighter," Foreman admitted. "He had a lot of heart. These young fighters, they seem to run from me."
Foreman desperately wanted one last big fight against either Holyfield or former champion Mike Tyson. "If I didn't believe I could whip Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson on the same night, I'd quit," he bragged. "All I'd need is one drink of water between fights. I'm still the heavyweight champ. No one can take it away unless they whip me."
In May 1997, Foreman won a tough fight against journeyman fighter Lou Savarese. "I did not understand how he stayed up with the shots I was giving him," Foreman admitted. "I don't know where he got the strength."
The end of the line for Foreman finally arrived in November 1997, just one month short of his forty-ninth birthday. He fought Shannon Briggs and lost a controversial decision. "Boxing has been wonderful to me," Foreman said, announcing his decision to retire. "It has let me do things I could never have done. Now, I gotta change direction again. It's not about money any more, I have to go back to the church and I don't think I'll be boxing again." Foreman ended his career with a record of 76-5.
In 2002, Ring magazine named Foreman one of the twenty-five greatest fighters of past eighty years and ranked him as the ninth greatest puncher of all time. The following year, Foreman was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also was been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Foreman continued his involvement in the sport following his retirement as a boxing analyst for HBO, a position he held for twelve years until leaving the post in 2004. During this time, Foreman continued to talk about a possible return to the ring for a comeback fight, but that plan never materialized.
In 2002, Foreman also wrote and published a book called George Foreman's Guide to Life: How to Get up off the Canvas When Life Knocks You Down, with Linda Kulman. Foreman also has written several other books, including By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman (1995, with Joel Engel), George Foreman's Knock-out-the-Fat Barbeque and Grilling Cookbook (1996, with Cherie Calbom), and The George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-reducing Grilling Machine Cookbook (1996, with Connie Merydith).
In addition to his boxing career, Foreman also became a household name when he began promoting the George Foreman Grill for Russell Hobbs Inc. (formerly Salton Inc.). Foreman's endorsement turned out to be a lucrative proposition for the retired professional boxer, who helped sell more than 100 million of the grills. In fact, it has been reported that Foreman earned more money from his endorsement of the grill than he did as a professional boxer. Foreman also has used his salesmanship to help promote Meineke Car Care Centers, and has launched his own line of environmentally safe cleaning products, a line of personal care products, a health shake called George Foreman's Life Shake, a prescription shoe for diabetics, and is a spokesman for a restaurant franchise called Ufood Grill. He also continues to remain active in his ministry and is involved in various charitable organizations.
Foreman lives on a ranch in Marshall, Texas, with his wife Mary, and his family. Foreman has been married several times and has eleven children. His five sons all are named George—distinguished by their nicknames—and his daughters include Natalia, Leola, Michi, Freeda, and Georgetta. In 2009, he also adopted a daughter by the name of Isabella.
- Boston Globe, March 11, 1987.
- Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1995.
- Foreman, George, with Joel Engel, By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman, Villard Books, 1995.
- Jet, May 6, 1991; April 27, 1992; June 28, 1993.
- Los Angeles Times, November 3, 1996.
- Newsday, March 11, 1997; April 28, 1997.
- Sport, May 1991; June 1995.
- Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1984; July 17, 1989; January 29, 1990; June 25, 1990; March 25, 1991; April 20, 1992; May 1, 1995.
- USA Today, November 4, 1996; April 28, 1997.
- Washington Times, September 29, 1996.