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Converted Heavyweight
He was the King of the Ring until he faced Muhammad Ali and lost.  But George Foreman says it’s the best thing that could have happened to him.

Different generations know two separate George Foremans.

The over-40 set recognizes the Texan as the two-time heavyweight champion who earned icon status by winning his second title at age 45.  But schoolchildren, teenagers, and 20-somethings identify Foreman as the man whose trademark countertop grills have tallied over $100 million in sales.

Photo courtesy Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

“Kids think their teachers are lying when they talk about my boxing career,” the fighter, who retired with a career record of 76 wins and five losses explains.  “They say, ‘He’s the cooking man.’ But I’m happy because the grill is a good thing.”

Although the former king of the ring and the king of the electric grill remain one and the same, Foreman has lived a dual existence.  As a young man the boxer filled his days with fury and rage.

“My whole life was boxing, and I figured the best boxer in the world would be the angriest human being alive,” the holder of 69 knockout decisions reveals. “I focused my life on being mean and unforgiving.”

But after a March 1977 upset loss to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico, the 1968 Olympic gold medal winner underwent a dramatic transformation in his dressing room that bordered on the bizarre.

Fatigues and dehydrated after the 12-round bout, Foreman mentally reviewed his portfolio to rationalize the defeat.  Suddenly, his thoughts shifted to death, and the fighter realized his vast wealth meant nothing.

As he sank deeper into despair and lapsed into a semi-conscious state, Foreman sensed the power and presence of Jesus Christ.  He recognized for 28 years he had lived as a sinner and needed a personal relationship with the Saviour.

The heavyweight responded to God’s call and awoke with new feelings of love and forgiveness instead of hatred and revenge.  Since that day, the 58-year-old former fighter has focused on spreading the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

“I saw everything I had crumble like ashes,” he tells Living Light News.  “I came back screaming that Jesus Christ lived in me and went home to my mother and hugged her and started calling friends I hadn’t seen in years.  I went from being a total clogged-up boxer to a human being.”

Foreman recently chronicled his life, Christian transformation, and spiritual journey in his book, God in My Corner (Thomas Nelson).  Raised in total poverty with seven siblings and a single other; he seldom attended church or read the Bible.

The future evangelist left school in the ninth grade and bounced through a series of dead end jobs mixed with periods of excessive drinking and brawling.

Spurred by Jim Brown’s television promotion for the job Corps, Foreman enrolled and wound up at a training facility in Pleasanton, California.

While studying electronics assembly, he connected with Charles “Doc” Broadus, the centre’s security chief and director of sports activities.  Broadus taught Foreman to box and coached him for several years.

Foreman earned the U.S. heavyweight spot for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.  After defeating Russian Ionas Chepulis for the gold medal, the young fighter strutted around the ring and waved a small American flag, an act that endeared him to millions of his countrymen.

“That was a big moment in my life,” Foreman admits.  “It wasn’t a political thing.  I just wanted to show the world where I was from.”

The pugilist entered the professional ranks afterward and quickly climbed the ladder to the top. 

In January 1973, he faced heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in a title match and upset the title holder with a second-round knockout.  In HBO’s initial sports broadcast, Howard Cosell made the memorable call, “Down goes Frazier!  Down goes Frazier!”

The undefeated Foreman successfully defended his crown against Jose Roman and Ken Norton before losing it in Zaire to Muhammad Ali in 1974.  In that dramatic “Rumble in the jungle” bout, Ali, a heavy underdog and seven years older than his opponent, hugged the ropes and absorbed blow after blow for six rounds.  The “Rope-a-Dope” tactic proved successful as the challenger knocked the exhausted Foreman to the canvas, and Ali regained his title with an eighth-round knockout.

Angered by his first loss, Foreman started the comeback trail with five wins over the next three years, including decisions over Ron Lyle and Joe Frazier.  But following the upset loss in 1977, the fighter left the ring to pursue his spiritual calling.  Thirty years later, Foreman considers those defeats by Ali and Young the best events of his life.

“I wanted to kill Ali, and everybody associated with him,” the heavyweight remarks.  “When I look back in hindsight, I’m glad it happened.  If I had won that boxing match, there’s no way anyone – not even God – could speak to me because I thought I was that powerful.”

The Texan returned to Houston and found direction at the small Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Ordained in 1978, Foreman preached on street corners and in prisons, sharing how God had changed his life.  He also opened an athletic centre to teach young people fair play and good sportsmanship.

But in 1987, funds ran low, and Foreman retuned to the ring at age 38.  Sceptics considered the comeback a publicity stunt, but the former champion proved them wrong.  Losing over 100 pounds, he progressed through a series of bouts before earning a title shot against Tommy Morrison in 1993.  A close but unanimous decision gave Morrison the match, but it earned Foreman another title chance the following year with Michael Moorer.

Entering the 10th round, the 45-year-old boxer trailed Moorer on every judge’s card.  But Foreman’s hard right to Moore’s chin knocked his opponent to the canvas, and the improbable challenger earned a second crown 20 years after losing his first.

Retired from boxing since 1997, Foreman now serves as a spokesman for Meineke Mufflers and Casual Male Big and Tall.  In addition to his signature grills he is one of the friendly faced panellists on the current season of American Inventor.  But his first love remains sharing Christ with others.

“I love pointing people toward heaven, sharing with them God’s plan of salvation,” he writes.  “Your heavenly Father loves you and wants to have a close relationship with you.  God is in your corner.”

John Hillman is a writer from Waco, Texas, who covers sports part-time for several publications including the Waco Tribune-Herald. He and his wife, Kathy, have authored three sports devotional books, Devotions from the World of Sports, Devotions from the World of Women's Sports, and Devos 4 Sports Fans. They are members of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church.

Originally published in Living Light News, July/August 2007.




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