Last Updated on Friday, 14 January 2011 18:28
Written by Alexander Zammit
Friday, 14 January 2011 17:31
George Foreman's boxing career could be mistaken for something straight out of a Hollywood movie. His story is one of incredible early triumphs, age-defying comebacks and a life-changing religious experience, not to mention one of the most famous fights of all time. Foreman was a big man with a big punch; He was one of the strongest heavyweights that ever entered the ring, if not the strongest; He was also perhaps the hardest hitter of all-time; He possessed a strong jab and uppercut. At 19 years old, Foreman stood at 6 feet 3 inches (192 cm) and weighed 218 pounds (99kg).
George Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas. He grew up in the Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas, with six siblings. Although reared by J.D. Foreman, whom his mother had married when George was a small child, his biological father was Leroy Moorehead. Foreman’s youth was a troubled one. He was constantly getting on the wrong side of the law, and was involved in dangerous street fighting from an early age. Foreman often bullied younger children and didn't like getting up early for school. Foreman became a mugger and brawler on the hard streets of Houston’s 5th ward by age 15.
In a bid to change his life, he joined the Job Corps as a way to provide him with some solidity and focus. Unfortunately, his aggression was still too much to control, and he would constantly get involved in fights with the other trainees. Ironically, it was this very aggression that led him to discover the sport that would eventually make his name.
He was given his first opportunity by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) in San Francisco, who supported him in his bid to become an amateur boxer.
As an amateur boxer Foreman was a phenomenal success:
Had his first amateur fight in December 1966, being battered by Max Briggs.
Won his first amateur fight on January 26, 1967 by a first-round knockout in the Parks Diamond Belt Tournament.
Won the San Francisco Examiner's Golden Gloves Tournament in the Junior Division in February 1967.
February 1967: Knocked out Thomas Cook to win the Las Vegas Golden Gloves in the Senior Division.
March 1967: Lost a split decision in the Senior Division Finals of the National Golden Gloves Tournament in Milwaukee.
February 1968: Knocked out L.C. Brown to win the San Francisco Examiner's Senior Title in San Francisco.
March 1968: Won four fights, three by knockout, to win the National AAU Heavyweight title in Toledo, Ohio.
August 1968: Went 2-1 against the West German Team in Germany.
September 21, 1968: Won his second decision over Otis Evans to make the U.S. boxing team for the Mexico City Olympic Games.
He thrashed a string of contenders with style, and finished off by beating the Russian contender Ionas Chepulis in the final to win the gold medal. Almost overnight he had become a national hero.
After building up an amateur record of 22 wins to 3 losses, Foreman went professional in 1969. He won his first fight convincingly by knocking out Donald Walheim in the 3rd round, and carried on his record by going on to win all of his first 12 fights that year, 11 of which were knockouts.
He enjoyed exactly the same knockout ratio the following year, including one of his best ever victories against George Chuvalo. Chuvalo had not gone down once in 90 fights, but Foreman changed that by winning on a technical knockout in the 3rd round.
In 1971, Foreman won seven more fights, winning all of them by knockout, including a rematch with Peralta, whom he defeated by knockout in the tenth and final round in Oakland, California, and a win over Leroy Caldwell, who was knocked out in the second round. After amassing a record of 32–0 (29 KO), Foreman was ranked as the number one challenger by the WBA and WBC.
In 1972, his string of wins continued with a series of five consecutive bouts in which he defeated each opponent within three rounds.
Still undefeated, and with an impressive knockout record, Foreman was set to challenge undefeated and undisputed world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Despite boycotting a title elimination caused by the vacancy resulting from the championship being stripped from Muhammad Ali, Frazier had won the title from Jimmy Ellis and defended his title four times since; including a 15-round unanimous decision over the previously-unbeaten Ali in 1971 after Ali had beaten Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry. Despite Foreman's superior size and reach, he was not expected to beat Frazier and was a 3:1 underdog going into the fight.
No one could have predicted his utter dominance in the title bout. Frazier was floored six times in two rounds, the last of which was the winning punch which saw Foreman take Frazier right off the ground.
After defending his title in two one-sided fights against Jose Roman and Ken Norton respectively, his next defence was the stuff of boxing legend. In the summer of 1974, he and Muhammad Ali travelled to what was then Zaire to take part in one of the most famous fights in history, which is now known as the 'Rumble in the Jungle'.
During training in Zaire, Foreman suffered a cut above his eye, forcing postponement of the match for a month. The injury affected Foreman's training regime, as it meant he couldn't spar in the build-up to the fight and risk the cut being re-opened. He later commented: "That was the best thing that happened to Ali when we were in Africa—the fact that I had to get ready for the fight without being able to box." Foreman would later also claim he was drugged by his trainer prior to the bout. Ali used this time to tour Zaire, endearing himself to the public while taunting Foreman at every opportunity. Foreman was favored, having knocked out both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton (the only men to defeat Ali to that point) within two rounds.
When Foreman and Ali finally met in the ring, Ali began more aggressively than expected, outscoring Foreman with superior punching speed. However, he quickly realized that this approach required him to move much more than Foreman and would cause him to tire. In the second round, Ali retreated to the ropes, shielding his head and hitting Foreman in the face at every opportunity. Foreman dug vicious body punches into Ali's sides; however, it quickly became clear that Foreman was unable to land a clean punch to Ali's head. The ring ropes, being much looser than usual, allowed Ali to lean back and away from Foreman's wild swings and then maul him in a clinch, forcing Foreman to expend extra energy untangling himself. Ali also pushed down on Foreman's neck, getting away with a move the referee is expected to discourage. To this day, it is unclear whether Ali's pre-fight talk of using speed and movement against Foreman had been just a diversionary trick, or whether his use of what became known as the "Rope-a-dope" tactic was an improvisation necessitated by Foreman's constant pressure.
In either case, Ali was able to counter off the ropes with blows to the face, and was able to penetrate Foreman's defense. As the early rounds passed, Ali continued to take heavy punishment to the body, and occasionally a hard jolt to the head, but Foreman could not land his best punches directly on Ali's chin. Eventually, Foreman began to tire and his punches became increasingly wild, losing power in the process. An increasingly-confident Ali taunted Foreman throughout the bout. Late in the eighth round, Ali began landing unreturned punches and sprang off the ropes with a sudden flurry to Foreman's head, punctuated by a hard right cross that landed flush on Foreman's jaw. Foreman was thrown off balance and fell to the floor. Muhammad Ali would remain the only boxer to defeat him by a knockout.
After spiralling into depression for a full year, Foreman returned to the ring in 1976 in a fight against Ron Lyle, which he won in the 5th round. His next fight also ended in victory when he knocked down his old adversary Frazier, again in the 5th round.
But in 1977, everything changed. After a last-round knockout where he lost to Jimmy Young, Foreman experienced in his dressing room what he described as a religious experience. He later explained how God came into his life at that very moment, and he became a born-again Christian.
For the next 10 years, although he never officially announced his retirement, he left the world of boxing and became an ordained minister in Houston.
Second comeback - 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 stated that his primary motive was to raise money to fund the youth center he had created. His stated ambition was to fight Mike Tyson. For his first fight, he went to Sacramento, California, where he beat journeyman Steve Zouski by a knockout in four rounds. Foreman weighed 267 lb (121 kg) for the fight, and looked badly out of shape. Although many thought his decision to return to the ring was a mistake, Foreman countered that he had returned to prove that age was not a barrier to people achieving their goals (as he would say later, he wanted to show that age 40 is not a "death sentence"). He won four more bouts that year, gradually slimming down and improving his fitness. In 1988, he won nine times. Perhaps his most notable win during this period was a seventh round knockout of former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
Having always been a deliberate fighter, Foreman had not lost much mobility in the ring since his first "retirement", although he found it harder to keep his balance after throwing big punches and could no longer throw rapid combinations. He was still capable of landing heavy, single blows, however. Ironically, the late-rounds fatigue that had plagued him in the ring as a young man now seemed to be gone, and he could comfortably compete for 12 rounds. Foreman attributed this to his new, relaxed fighting style (he has spoken of how, earlier in his career, his lack of stamina came from an enormous amount of nervous tension).
By 1989, while continuing his comeback, Foreman had sold his name and face for the advertising of various products, selling everything from grills to mufflers on TV. For this purpose his public persona was reinvented and the formerly aloof, ominous Foreman had been replaced by a smiling, friendly George. He and Ali had become friends, and he followed in Ali's footsteps by making himself a celebrity outside the boundaries of boxing.
Foreman continued his string of victories, winning five more fights, the most impressive being a three-round win over Bert Cooper, who would go on to contest the undisputed heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield.
In 1990, Foreman met former title challenger Gerry Cooney in Atlantic City. Cooney was coming off a long period of inactivity, but was well-regarded for his punching power. Cooney wobbled Foreman in the first round, but Foreman landed several powerful punches in the second round. Cooney was knocked down twice, and Foreman had scored a devastating KO. Foreman went on to win four more fights that year.
In 1991, he was offered a title challenge against Evander Holyfield, which was an achievement in itself. He didn’t win the fight, but he lasted the whole 12 rounds to gain the respect of his peers, and suddenly he was being seriously considered once again.
In 1993, he got another shot at a title, but this time for the WBO championship, which was largely ignored in the world of boxing. As it happened, he lost the fight to Tommy Morrison on decision.
Champion once again - On 5th November, 1994, Foreman got another shot at the title against Michael Moorer, who was the WBA and IBF heavyweight champion.It all appeared to be going wrong for him as, for the first 9 rounds, it was a very one-sided affair. Foreman was taking punishment and providing no answers.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Foreman swung his fist in the 10th round and devastatingly connected with Moorer’s chin, cutting his bottom lip open. He went down to the canvas, and the fight was over. At 45 years of age, Foreman had regained his heavyweight champion title. The oldest man to ever win the title.
Stripped - It did not last for long. Soon after the fight, as punishment for refusing to take on Tony Tucker in a challenge for his title, he was stripped of his belt. He later went onto defend his IBF title against the German boxer Axel Schulz. However, after winning on a controversial decision, he refused a rematch and was stripped of this title as well.
In 1998 he fought Shannon Briggs in a fight that would see the winner go on to face Lennox Lewis in another title bout. However, when he lost this bout, he announced his retirement at the age of 48.
Post-retirement - Although he later hinted at a few comebacks to the sport, he never followed any of these through, and instead became a boxing analyst for HBO, although he soon broke off this contract and left the sport forever. In January 2003, he was elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
These days, he is widely known for his ‘Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine’, a product that has made him a millionaire many times over. His deal with Salton Inc. to promote the product still remains one of the biggest endorsements of any athlete in history.
Although he has made more money from his business ventures that he ever did through boxing, it is certain that he will be always be remembered for the sport which made his name, and the impact he made throughout his career.
Herb Goldman ranked Foreman as the #9 All-Time Heavyweight; George was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Boxing Record: Won 76 (KO 68) + lost 5 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 81
Foreman has five daughters and five sons and has named all of the sons George: George Jr., George III, George IV, George V, and George VI.
Guest starred on a fifth season (1976) episode of Sanford and Son, entitled "The Directors," as himself.
Became highly successful with his "Lean Mean Grilling Machine," and starred in ads for Meineke mufflers.
Daughter Freeda embarked on a brief professional boxing career.