George Foreman went from hero to villain inside the boxing ring, then turned his life around to reclaim the heavyweight title.
George Foreman after a very decorated and illustrious amateur and professional career, made a successful transition to business by developing the grilling machine, but life hasn’t always been sunshine and roses for the man known as ‘Big George’.
Foreman won the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, and in the final he destroyed the more experienced Jonas Cepulis in two rounds. To this date he has always saw the gold medal as the best achievement he has ever won, but also put him in a confident manner to replicate this victory during the professional ranks.
Foreman made his professional debut on June 1969 and in the space of four years, his record stood at 40 victories and stood as the heavyweight champion of the world, when he defeated Joe Frazier. Greatly feared for his punching power, size, and sheer physical dominance, Foreman was nonetheless underestimated by Frazier and his promoters, and knocked the champion down six times in two rounds before the bout was stopped.
Then life dramatically changed for Foreman on the third defence of his title in Zaire against Muhammad Ali. Both men trained for most of 1974 in Zaire so they could getting acclimatised to the African climate, and Foreman hated this. He was the champion of the world and the heavy favourite to win the fight, but in the eyes of the African people, he was the outsider as they heavily favoured Ali.
Ali pulled off a tactical masterclass by adopting the rope-a-dope style and abosorbed Foreman’s formidable power. Throughout the fight Ali taunted him by saying, "They told me you could punch, George!" and "They told me you could punch as hard as Joe Louis." “That all you got, George?” Suffering his first loss ‘Big’ George’s life spiralled in darkness as his thoughts and energy was consumed in hatred for Ali, and also became focused on receiving a rematch, which would never materialise.
Foreman was determined to prove he was still the best fighter in the world, and so, in 1975, voyaged to Toronto to fight five men in one night. On April 25, what was meant to be a triumphant display of Foreman’s athleticism and power, became one of the saddest spectacles in the sport’s history. The five sacrificial lambs sent to the slaughter were each a lot lighter then Foreman. It took Foreman little more than an hour to dispatch of all five men. Muhammad Ali was at ringside doing the commentary alongside broadcaster Howard Cosell. Ali proceeded to spend the entire hour hurling abuse at a poor Foreman from ringside. "He can whoop these five men, but he won't whoop one me!" He bellows at one point.
A year and a half passed by, and focused on the road to reclaiming his heavyweight title, Foreman defeated Ron Lyle, Joe Frazier, Scott LeDoux, John Denis and Pedro Agosto all within a year and all by stoppage.
In March of 1977, Foreman’s life changed forever.
Foreman travelled to Puerto Rico the day before fighting Jimmy Young, and after fighting for the full 12 rounds, in which he gave everything he had, Foreman lost by unanimous decision. George became seriously ill in his dressing room after the fight, he was suffering from exhaustion and heatstroke and stated he had a “near death experience”. He has spoken, in a documentary on Sky, of being in a hellish, frightening place of nothingness and despair, and realized that he was in the midst of death. Though not yet religious, he began to plead with God to help him. He explained that he sensed God asking him to change his life and ways. After this experience, Foreman became a born again Christian, dedicating his life for the next decade to God.
He became a minister for Christianity, and then developed into being the Reverend in Houston and devoted his time for his family and more importantly his congregation. Foreman also opened up a youth centre, called George Foreman Youth and Community Centre. After a decade out of the ring, his attorney said to him, “George, it's great that you're trying to help people. But I have to tell you, you're going to be the saddest boxing story since Joe Louis began standing out there at Caesars Palace shaking hands. You can't afford to keep this place up. You're going to have to pull back." The money he made from boxing was quickly dwindling away and Foreman made the decision to return to the ring.
The first day back in the gym, George weighed in at 315 pounds and knew it was going to be an uphill battle. He walked, and walked for couple weeks as he was heavy he couldn’t run. The media and the boxing world regarded the comeback as ridiculous and also a media stunt for publicity, but Foreman was out to prove he could still be the best.
The saying goes, a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man. And, this statement regarded George Foreman more than anyone else in the world. He was Olympic champion, heavyweight champion, earned millions in fighting at the highest level. But, lost everything and struggled to provide for his family. He knew with the extra weight, he wasn’t fast anymore and had to adapt, his now ageing body, to fighting once again and learning his trade. He fought against tomato-cans, from the lowest level and were guys that had no chance of defeating him.
The redemption fight for George Foreman came in 1990, and was the battle against Gerry Cooney. Cooney had a reputation of being a big puncher, but had not been in action since being defeated by Michael Spinks three years prior. Foreman would dominate the action in the second and sent Cooney down to the canvas after stunning him with a left uppercut and then landing several right hands followed by a straight left just past the midway mark. Cooney answered the referee's ten count and though clearly hurt from the exchange, was allowed to continue. Foreman then charged at the still staggering Cooney, delivered a sharp left uppercut that knocked Cooney out on his feet, followed by a quick right cross before the referee could step in, sending Cooney face-first to the canvas.After hard fought fights with Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison, Foreman would recapture the heavyweight title in 1994 against Michael Moorer. He would retire three years later aged 48 years old, following defeat by Shannon Briggs. Foreman was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and The Ring Magazine ranked him as the ninth greatest puncher of all time.